VOLUME 9 – THE SPIRIT OF SALVATION
file 03: salvation
Haruka cleaned herself up reasonably and flew out of her room .
She went to the main road and flagged a taxi, told the driver her destination and leant back on the seat .
She felt a sense of déjà vu as she watched the city’s nightscape pass by through the window . Come to think of it, she had looked out a taxi window like this when Isshin had been stabbed too .
– No .
Haruka cleared that thought out of her head .
She couldn’t think bad thoughts . ‘It’ll definitely be OK!’ Haruka told herself that and managed to calm herself down a bit .
She got off the taxi in front of the hospital . After gathering herself, she hurriedly went to the waiting room through the night entrance .
She spotted Gotou sitting on the bench .
His head looked injured, as it was bound by gauze . The gauze was a bit wet with blood .
'Are you all right?’ asked Haruka . Gotou looked up .
'Sorry . I was there, but…’
'More importantly, what’s happening?’
Haruka spoke over Gotou .
Gotou glanced at the back of the waiting room . Ishii was there talking with a number of uniformed officers .
Ishii seemed to notice Gotou’s gaze as he stopped talking and walked towards them .
'Haruka-chan . ’
'Ishii-san . What’s happening?’
Haruka quickly finished her greeting and asked Ishii for more information .
Ishii fixed the position of his silver-framed glasses with his fingertip and began his explanation .
'From the situation, it seems that the culprit stunned Yakumo-shi with a stun gun and then hit Detective Gotou with something like a rod to make him faint . And then, that person took Yakumo-shi away – is what I think . ’
'Why was I the only one who was hit?’ said Gotou with a frown, looking like he was bearing with the pain .
'I think the culprit was probably using a stun gun that could not be used quickly in succession . ’
'So they didn’t expect there to be two people,’ Gotou said bitterly .
'We are currently checking the security cameras as there is the possibility that the culprit might be recorded on them . ’
'The person who got me was wearing a white hakama,’ said Gotou angrily .
'Jikoukoushinkai may be involved . ’
'We’re going to their base . Yakumo has to be there . ’
Gotou threw his gauze bandage into the rubbish bin and stood up .
'Please wait . ’
Haruka called out to Gotou before he could leave .
'Actually, I had a phone call from somebody who is likely the culprit . ’
'What did you say?’
Gotou and Ishii expressed their surprise simultaneously .
Haruka explained in detail about the mysterious call she had received from Yakumo’s mobile .
'The forest probably means Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees in this situation . ’
Gotou scratched his chin .
Haruka felt the same way . If Yakumo’s abduction was related to this series of cases . it was likely that the forest in question was Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees .
The culprit had also said that a corpse had been found there .
'This is definitely a trap,’ objected Ishii .
Haruka had thought that too . If the person who had called was the person who had abducted Yakumo, there was no reason for them to tell Haruka where Yakumo was .
If they were going to just tell her without asking for anything, they wouldn’t have needed to abduct Yakumo in the first place .
'We can’t ignore it . ’
'That’s true,’ agreed Gotou .
'But there is also that video,’ continued Ishii .
'What video?’ asked Gotou .
'Actually… in the video the young man who found the corpse at Aokigahara took, that man… there was the man with two red eyes . So…’
'Even if it is a trap, I won’t be able to relax until I go!’ declared Gotou .
'You go check out that religious group . I’m going to the Sea of Trees . ’
'I’m going too!’
Haruka called out to Gotou, who had been about to leave .
'You can’t . It’s dangerous . ’
Ishii grabbed her arm, but Haruka shook his hand away .
She couldn’t just wait silently when all this was happening .
'You’re going to come even if I say no, right?’ said Gotou, turning around .
'Yes . ’
Haruka looked right at Gotou .
Just as Gotou said, she planned to go no matter how they objected .
'Right! Let’s go!’
'Yes,’ replied Haruka . She followed Gotou out .
– They’re gone .
Ishii watched Gotou and Haruka leave in a daze .
Perhaps he should have stopped them, but for some reason, he couldn’t . No matter what he said, he probably wouldn’t have been able to stop the two of them .
They stood on such strong bonds .
All Ishii could do now was hope they would be safe .
'Ishii . ’
Ishii turned around at the voice and saw Miyagawa .
'What is it?’
'We’ve got the pictures from the security cameras . ’
'Ah, yes . ’
Ishii and Miyagawa went to the security room behind the reception .
It was a small three-tatami room . There was one desk and a folded futon by it for naps . On top of the desk, there were three monitors .
'So which one is it?’ Miyagawa asked the male guard at the desk .
The man mumbled something as he used the keyboard . Then, he pointed at the monitor in the centre .
'This one . ’
Ishii peered at the monitor and could see Gotou and Yakumo standing in the courtyard . Since there was no sound, he couldn’t tell what they were talking about .
After a while, Ishii saw a shadow appear behind Yakumo .
White hakama with a sash with a red Brahma on it . The clothes of Shugendo . The man pressed a stun gun into Yakumo’s shoulder .
Yakumo lost consciousness from the shock and collapsed right there .
Gotou noticed something was strange and put himself on guard, but the person in white quickly hit Gotou with a hexagonal bar .
It only took a moment .
After that, the man in Shugendo clothes went out of the frame . After that, a car came in and stopped in front of Yakumo .
The man in white got out of the driver’s seat . It was probably the same person as the one earlier .
He picked Yakumo up and put him in the car . Then, he got into the driver’s seat and drove away .
'That was efficient . ’
That was how Ishii felt .
He didn’t even pay attention to Gotou . It was clear that his goal was to abduct Yakumo from the start .
'Yeah,’ replied Miyagawa . Then, he said to the guard, 'Could you show us the video again?’
The security guard silently rewound the video as told . Miyagawa put his face close to the screen .
He spoke up when the car came into the frame .
In response, the guard stopped the video . Miyagawa was probably trying to check the car’s licence plate .
Ishii also went up close to the monitor to see .
However, it was no use . The number was covered with packing tape . They had no way to see it .
He must have been thinking about the security cameras . A thorough criminal .
'Damn it,’ Miyagawa said, full of feeling .
It was true that they couldn’t see the number . However, Ishii had found something else . It was –
'Could you enlarge this portion?’
Ishii pointed at the chest of the man in Shugendo clothes .
'The image will be fuzzy,’ said the guard, enlarging the photo .
Ishii could see the word Jikoukoushinkai on the black sash .
'So it’s really that religious group…’ said Miyagawa, who seemed to have sensed Ishii’s intentions .
'Yes . ’
'Ishii, let’s go . ’
'Yes sir,’ Ishii responded loudly . Then, he left the security room together with Miyagawa .
'It’s fine . We’ll find him,’ Gotou said, driving the Mini Cooper, to Haruka in the passenger seat .
Rather than encouraging her, it was more for himself .
Haruka was acting strong .
She probably would have been half in tears in the past, but she was different now .
'What’s so amusing?’
After Haruka said that, Gotou realised that he was smiling .
'I was just looking back . ’
'When I first met you, Haruka-chan, it was during that case with the university’s deserted building, right?’
'It was . ’
Haruka’s expression softened just slightly, perhaps as she thought back on the incident as well .
'I thought you were a pretty weak girl at the time . ’
Back then, Haruka had looked like she would cry at any moment as she sat next to Yakumo .
They had met again afterwards during a number of incidents, but Gotou felt like Haruka had been crying every time .
Maybe she was worrying about Yakumo, or feeling sorry for the victim – but at some point, Gotou had stopped feeling weakness from her tears .
He could feel that she had the strength to go forward even as she cried .
And now, even though she must have wanted to cry, she was restraining those feelings . Maybe she’d decided that she wouldn’t cry until she found Yakumo .
Now that he thought about it again, she wasn’t just a weak girl who cried all the time .
That was probably why Yakumo was charmed by her .
'Why are you using the past tense?’
Haruka puffed out her cheeks, as if in anger .
“Cause you’ve changed . ’
'Is that so?’
Haruka might not really feel it herself, but Gotou could tell, as an observer .
Haruka had definitely changed from meeting Yakumo .
'Since I’m saying it, there’s no doubt about it . ’
'But you’re not the only one that’s changed, Haruka-chan . ’
'Yakumo’s changed too . ’
'Yeah . People change because they love each other . ’
Gotou had started thinking that way recently .
'Somehow, that doesn’t really sound like you, Gotou-san . ’
'Really?’ said Gotou, playing dumb .
But he understood in his heart . More than anything, Gotou himself had changed . He felt like, after meeting Yakumo and Haruka, he had found the path he was supposed to take .
It wasn’t just Gotou . Atsuko, Nao and Ishii had changed too .
These people who had all been lacking something had come together, hurt each other at times, and continued to change .
But Gotou thought it was a good thing . That was why –
'Let’s find Yakumo no matter what . ’
'Yes . ’
Haruka responded with a smile .
There was not even an atom of doubt there . Yakumo would definitely come back –
'All right . Going to put the pedal to the metal . ’
Gotou stepped firmly on the pedal . If he went quickly, they would probably reach Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees in two hours .
For Haruka’s sake and his own, he would definitely bring Yakumo back .
Gotou reaffirmed his resolve .
'This is a bit creepy,’ said Ishii without thinking .
The Jikoukoushinkai base was outside of town and was so quiet it was eerie .
It seemed like they had renovated an old temple . It was more quiet than Ishii had thought it would be . That made it even creepier .
'Yeah,’ agreed Miyagawa, hands in his pockets .
To be honest, Ishii was afraid of going inside, but strangely, he didn’t think about running away .
With determination, Ishii reached out to press the intercom button .
'Oi . ’
Miyagawa grabbed Ishii’s arm .
'What is it?’
'Is it OK not to call for reinforcements?’
Miyagawa’s words brought Ishii back to reality .
'Reinforcements . ’
To be honest, Ishii hadn’t even thought about calling for reinforcements .
They had no decisive evidence at this point . Even if they called reinforcements, they wouldn’t be able to search the place .
'You’ve changed,’ said Miyagawa while laughing .
'Yeah . Just a little in the past, you’d’ve been the one who suggested calling for reinforcements . ’
Now that Miyagawa said that, Ishii felt like it was true .
Yakumo’s role had been to frantically step on the brakes when Gotou was running wild . No, that was an excuse – Ishii just hadn’t had confidence in his actions . That was why he would want reinforcements to get instructions from the higher ups .
Mysteriously though, he didn’t feel like that right now .
'Shall I call for reinforcements?’ asked Ishii, thinking that he should at least ask .
'Just us two is enough . ’
Miyagawa smirked and puffed out his chest .
'Yes,’ replied Ishii . If they got orders from above, they would just be slowed down . Sometimes, it was necessary to take gutsy actions . Especially since Yakumo’s life was in danger right now .
Ishii reached out and pressed the intercom button .
<Hello, who may you be?>
There was a response immediately .
'I apologise for coming late at night . I am Ishii of the Setamachi precinct . ’
'Actually, we are investigating a certain case… We would just like to consult you…’
<Does it have to be today?>
It was already past midnight . Perhaps this response was normal .
'Yes . It has to be today . ’
<Please wait . >
Then, the intercom stopped . They were probably checking if it was OK .
'Do you think they’ll let us in?’ asked Miyagawa .
'No, I think they’ll refuse,’ said Ishii .
If Yakumo’s abduction was related to Jikoukoushinkai, there was no way they’d let them in .
Ishii’s instinct was right . Through the intercom, they were told to please come again tomorrow because the founder, who had been feeling unwell, was already asleep .
After that, no matter how Ishii pressed the intercom button, there was no response .
'What are we going to do now?’ said Miyagawa with a sigh .
The past Ishii would probably have retreated, but –
'Miyagawa . ’
'This wall looks climbable . ’
When Ishii pointed at the wall, Miyagawa’s eyes went wide .
'Yes . ’
'If people find out we did this, we’re finished . ’
Ishii knew Miyagawa was right, but –
'However, if we don’t, and the person who abducted Yakumo-shi is from this group, we won’t be able to undo this,’ Ishii replied .
For some reason, that Miyagawa started chuckling .
'You’ve really changed . You’re becoming more and more like Gotou . ’
'Is that so?’
To be honest, Ishii didn’t really feel that way .
After Makoto returned to the office, she decided to research Jikoukoushinkai again .
She was concerned about Yakumo’s abduction .
However, nothing she could do would change anything . She would believe that Ishii and Gotou would bring him back and start working on what to do next .
That was the conclusion Makoto had come to –
When Gotou contacted her, her plans had fallen through, but Makoto had a theory . She was going to confirm it .
Makoto called Takizawa on her mobile .
'I apologise for calling at night . ’
<What, it’s you again?>
Takizawa was acting curt, but it was his usual attitude .
'I’m sorry . ’
<So how was the video?>
'You were talking about the red-eyed man in the video, right?’
<Yeah, him . Well, sometimes eyes look red because of the light, but there was definitely somebody else there . >
That hadn’t been because of the light .
'I know that man . ’
<What? Who is he?>
Takizawa was agitated .
It was very difficult to explain who the man with two red eyes was . The reason being –
'He’s already dead . ’
<So he’s a ghost…>
Takizawa wasn’t that surprised .
A newspaper journalist had to acknowledge the existence of ghosts even if they didn’t want to . They didn’t proclaim it publicly, but they saw more than one or two ghosts while gathering information and taking photographs .
'So there was something I wanted to check . ’
'It’s about the group called Jikoukoushinkai…’
<Yeah . >
'It seems that the base used to be in Yamanashi . ’
<Seems like it . >
'I want to know of ay rumours about the location . ’
<Why do you want to know?>
It made sense for Takizawa to have this question .
However, this was extremely important to prove Makoto’s theory .
'Jikoukoushinkai moved to Tokyo about two years ago . ’
<If I remember correctly, yeah . >
'Why did they suddenly expand… I think that’s the key to solving this case . ’
<I don’t really get it, but fine . I’ll look into it for you . >
'Thank you very much . ’
After thanking Takizawa, Makoto hung up .
Jikoukoushinkai had been managed by the founder, Minegishi Kyouka, and Hiyama Kenichirou, who had been found as a corpse in Aokighara’s Sea of Trees .
The group had suddenly moved to Tokyo two years ago and expanded . That perfectly matched the time when she appeared .
She – that is, Nanase Miyuki .
Makoto felt a chill run down her spine just from thinking the name .
Ishii knelt on the floor, bearing with the weight on his back .
'Just a bit more . ’
Miyagawa, standing on Ishii’s back, reached out to try to grab the top of the wall, but it wasn’t going well .
– This is no good .
Ishii’s arms were shaking . At this rate, he’d collapse under the weight .
Just as he thought that, his back was hit with an impact . Miyagawa had jumped to try to grab the curb .
Ishii couldn’t bear that force and fell flat on the asphalt .
'Oi, Ishii . Hurry,’ said Miyagawa, reaching towards him from the top of the wall .
'Ah, yes . ’
Ishii bore with the pain in his back as he grabbed Miyagawa’s hand .
With good timing, Ishii jumped as Miyagawa pulled . Ishii almost fell, but he managed to hold on .
Then, they climbed over the wall onto the grounds .
However, Ishii didn’t absorb the impact well and fell forward, hitting his nose .
He felt the hot pain start spreading .
– This is the worst .
Ishii had started to regret their attempt at infiltration .
'What are you doing? Let’s go . ’
At Miyagawa’s rushing, Ishii started walking, stooped over and holding his nose .
The premises were silent . There were no lights on in the rooms .
'So what are we going to do?’
'What shall we do?’ replied Ishii .
Miyagawa put his head in his hands, exasperated .
Though it was good that they had managed to get in, to be honest, Ishii didn’t know what to do next .
'You can’t have no plan . ’
'I-I apologise . ’
'Anyway, let’s go take a look at places which might be monitored . ’
'Ah, that’d be good,’ agreed Ishii .
Miyagawa pushed Ishii’s head .
'You’re all talk, aren’t you?’
– He was happy .
It was the first time Miyagawa had hit him like this since they partnered up . It was strange, but it felt like they were closer – like Miyagawa had acknowledged him .
'What are you grinning to yourself for?’
'I-I’m sorry . ’
Ishii hurriedly made his face stern .
'There’s a detached building up ahead . ’
Miyagawa pointed at a building that looked like a temple and another building that was connected to it by a corridor .
'Yes . ’
'Doesn’t it look suspicious?’
'It does,’ agreed Ishii . He and Miyagawa nodded at each other and slowly advanced .
They kept their heads low so that people wouldn’t notice, so it took them a long time to advance just ten metres .
'So how are we going in?’ said Miyagawa, crouching with his back to the wall .
Ishii had looked at the building as he came up to it . There were bars on the window . It didn’t look like they could get in .
It meant they would have to go in through the front .
As Ishii said that, Miyagawa looked towards the front door .
'No, it’s locked,’ Miyagawa said quietly, making an X sign with his hands .
'Shall we go to the back?’
'Looks like we’ll have to,’ agreed Miyagawa .
They went to the back of the detached building with their backs still to the wall .
The back window fortunately didn’t have bars . The light was even on .
'It seems like we can look in from there,’ said Ishii . Then, he had a strange thought .
'It feels kind of like we’re thieves . ’
Miyagawa cocked his head .
'Ah, I was just thinking that thieves have it tough . ’
'Don’t be stupid . Let’s go,’ Miyagawa reprimanded .
'Ah, yes sir . ’
It was true that this wasn’t the time to be thinking about useless things like that .
Ishii moved to look inside, but it was no use . The window was too high up .
'Ishii, act as a stool,’ said Miyagawa .
Ishii let out a loud voice without thinking . He hurriedly covered his mouth .
'They’ll find out we’re here . ’
'I-I apologise . But… Earlier, I was the stool, so…’
To be honest, his back still hurt . He wasn’t sure he could be a stool again . Perhaps Miyagawa sensed Ishii’s inner feelings as he grumbled, 'Guess there’s no helping it,’ and kneeled on the floor .
Thank goodness – though Ishii thought that, he felt awkward about stepping on his boss’s back .
'Hurry up,’ said Miyagawa . Ishii gathered himself and climbed onto Miyagawa’s back .
He slowly reached up to peer inside .
It was a small tatami room . In the centre, there was a woman in a white kimono . It was the founder, Minegishi Kyouka .
However, she seemed strange .
With her head hung, her body was shaking .
– What is that?
Perhaps she had sensed Ishii, as she slowly lifted her head .
There was no life in her face . Her eyes weren’t focussed . Her mouth was open in an unsightly fashion and drool was coming out .
– That’s just like…
'What are you doing there?’
Suddenly, Ishii heard a voice and turned around .
A man in a mountain priest’s clothes had stuck his head out the temple’s window .
– Oh no . They noticed us .
Immediately as Ishii thought that, Miyagawa’s body shook underneath him . Ishii fell from Miyagawa’s back to the ground .
He started coughing from the impact .
'Let’s go!’ yelled Miyagawa .
Ishii got up while bearing with the pain and hurriedly ran after Miyagawa’s back .
– Dark . Complete dark .
Yakumo’s consciousness wandered a dark forest .
The despair of the spirits in this forest was much deeper than he imagined .
Some were betrayed by friends, and others by the family they lived –
Some did not even have people who could betray them – those who had spent their lives alone .
– They weren’t even able to find salvation by dying .
Yakumo heard a voice . He couldn’t see him, but Yakumo knew who it was .
– That’s not true .
Yakumo gritted his teeth together and denied it .
– What isn’t true?
– They must have had hope .
Yakumo couldn’t respond right away .
Had the people who died in this forest really had hope?
Nobody had reached out to help . Even if they continued to live, their suffering would have just continued .
– This is the true nature of humanity . Do you understand the true reason they were led to their deaths?
– The true reason?
– Hope .
– Because humans have hope, they despair . Because they believe, they are betrayed .
– That’s not true!
– There is nothing untrue about it . You understand too, don’t you?
– It’s not true . It’s not true . It’s not true .
Yakumo denied it frantically, but his heart was flowing away with the current .
Yakumo couldn’t completely deny what he was saying . Without hope, they wouldn’t have despaired . The faint hope that people hold could make them suffer .
It had been that way for the doctor named Kinoshita . He had held the imaginary hope that he might be able to revive his dead daughter .
It was the same for Kamiyama . He had seen a dream of his bright future with his lover . That was why, when that dream was trampled on, he hadn’t been able to stop himself .
That wasn’t all . There had been a man who had tried to become somebody else . There had been a woman who wanted the love of a family .
Because they had hoped, they had tasted despair .
– If you say it is untrue, can you save them?
– Can you save all the spirits in this forest?
– I… can’t . I can’t save them .
Yakumo felt painfully how powerless he was .
There was no way to save the countless number of spirits in their despair, since Yakumo could only see them .
– I’m powerless .
Something that he had been protecting in his heart cracked loudly .
What had he been trying to protect up until now? Where had he been trying to go?
If he hoped, all that lay ahead of him was despair . No matter how he struggled, there was no way he could escape the current .
If that was the case, then it would have been better if there had been no hope in the first place .
If there was nothing there, there was nothing to lose .
– Ah, I’m being swallowed by the darkness .
Yakumo felt his consciousness being eaten away, but he no longer had the will to resist it .
Rather, he even felt it pleasant .
The car ran along Highway 139 –
The road that went across the Sea of Trees had no streetlights . It was like a dark tunnel .
– Yakumo is in this forest .
Haruka believed that . Her hand enveloped the necklace with the red stone that was hanging from her neck .
'It was around here . ’
Gotou turned the wheel to drive onto number 300 towards Lake Motosu and parked the car after driving a bit further .
About fifteen minutes ahead was where the corpse had been found .
Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees was wide . It would be impossible to search the whole area with just the two of them . They were going on the call Haruka had received and decided to search the area near the corpse .
After Haruka got off the car, she felt the cold wind blowing .
They were high up, and the wind blew down the mountain . It was very cold . Haruka’s body shivered .
'Right . Go time?’
Gotou held a torch up and walked forward .
Haruka followed him into the forest .
Even though she had only taken a step forward, she had a bad feeling . The air felt suddenly heavier .
Perhaps it was because she knew this forest was famous as a suicide spot .
'Are you all right?’
Gotou turned around .
'Yes,’ replied Haruka with a nod .
She couldn’t stop . If she didn’t go forward, she couldn’t find Yakumo .
With the rocks coming out of the ground, it was very difficult to walk . She went farther and farther in through the cypress trees .
'I wonder why the perp kidnapped Yakumo…’ said Gotou .
'I don’t know, but…’
'Perhaps it was because Yakumo-kun understood the core of the case . ’
That was what Haruka thought .
When she parted with Yakumo on the road, Haruka had felt faintly that Yakumo had already seen through the structure of the case –
'And so the perp kidnapped somebody who was getting in the way,’ said Gotou to himself .
'Yes . ’
'But then why go out of their way to kidnap him?’
'There are other methods to get rid of somebody . And I don’t know why they went out of their way to call you . ’
Haruka cocked her head at that .
Why had the culprit told her that Yakumo was in the forest – that was like telling her to find the person they’d abducted .
'Well, no point thinking about it now . First, we need to find Yakumo,’ Gotou said self-derisively and started walking through the forest silently again .
Haruka had thought it was cold at first, but her back was sweaty, perhaps because she was walking .
– I wonder what the people who came to this forest to commit suicide were thinking .
That thought crossed Haruka’s mind .
Gotou was here now, but the people who committed suicide must have walked this forest alone . Perhaps that reconfirmed their solitariness .
And then, they died without anyone knowing . There was only deep despair there .
'No . ’
Haruka shook her head .
She cleared her head and continued walking silently .
'It should’ve been around here…’
Gotou stopped and took a look at the map while lighting it up .
However, no matter how he looked at the map, it probably wouldn’t be much use in the dark forest . They could only walk forward and judge by distance .
'Shall we split up and search?’ suggested Haruka .
Gotou’s face clearly hardened .
'Don’t be stupid . If we split up in this forest, it’d be a disaster . ’
'Should be just a bit more . Let’s go . ’
Gotou interrupted Haruka and started walking again .
Haruka gritted her teeth and stepped forward .
– I’ll definitely find you .
She kept wishing that in her heart as she walked forward .
However, the farther she went, she felt like that wish was being swallowed by despair .
The moment her will weakened, she slipped .
She almost fell face-up when Gotou grabbed Haruka’s arm . Thanks to that, even though she lost her balance, she managed to not fall .
'Thank you very much . ’
'Watch out . We’re close . We’ll find him soon . ’
Gotou’s voice wasn’t even slightly weak .
I’ll find Yakumo no matter what – that strong will seemed to flow out of his whole body .
– I won’t give up either .
Haruka gathered her strength and walked forward .
'There . ’
Gotou spoke up after they headed forward some more .
With his torch, he pointed at a large rock about five metres ahead of him . The rock was green from moss .
'The corpse was found near that rock, if I remember correctly . ’
As he said that, Gotou pointed the torch around the area .
That light illuminated a person .
A person sitting against the rock . It was –
'Yakumo-kun!’ called out Haruka, running forward .
Even though she kept tripping on rocks, she somehow managed to reach Yakumo .
Haruka embraced Yakumo tightly .
His body was completely cold . However, she could hear his breathing .
– He’s alive .
Haruka felt that with her whole body .
'Damn, I suffered a lot,’ said Miyagawa a while after escaping back to the precinct .
Ishii felt the same way .
Current police officers had trespassed . If they had been caught there, it would have been a big problem . However, they couldn’t relax just because they had escaped .
If people from Jikoukoushinkai reported it to the police, they wouldn’t be let off easily .
'So what did you see?’ asked Miyagawa, lighting a cigarette .
That was right . Ishii had been so frantic that he hadn’t reported what he’d seen there to Miyagawa .
'It seems it’s true that the founder is feeling unwell . ’
Miyagawa raised his eyebrows .
Ishii explained in detail what he had seen from that window .
That was what Miyagawa said first after Ishii finished .
Ishii thought it strange as well, but he had a theory .
'Perhaps she has been possessed by a spirit . ’
Miyagawa looked shocked .
'Makoto-san and Gotou-san had also been like that when possessed . ’
Since Ishii couldn’t see like Yakumo, he had no proof . However, Ishii’s experiences told him that that was a person being possessed by a spirit .
Kyouka’s face from back then came up in Ishii’s head, which made him shudder .
'If that’s true, it’d be a big problem for the group . ’
'It would . ’
If the founder of the group had been possessed by a spirit, that would affect their prestige . The believers would lost their belief and it would be difficult to continue to support the group .
'But why did that happen?’
Ishii couldn’t answer that .
'Something probably happened . ’
Ishii cocked his head . Then, his mobile rang . The number of the display was Gotou’s .
'Hello, Ishii Yuutarou speaking . ’
Ishii answered the phone with vigour .
<You don’t have to say your name every time . I know it’s you . >
There was a lot of noise, perhaps because of bad reception . Ishii managed to hear Gotou though .
'That is an honour . ’
<Are you an idiot?>
'I-I apologise . ’
<Anyway… we found Yakumo . >
'Eh? Really!?’ yelled Ishii, jumping up .
<Don’t be so loud . >
'I-I apologise . Was he really in the Sea of Trees then?’
<Yeah, he was . >
While Ishii was relieved upon hearing Gotou’s reply, he had a question .
That would mean that the call to Haruka had been correct . Why would the abductor tell Haruka the abductee’s location?
Ishii expressed his question to Gotou .
<I don’t know . Anyway, we have to take Yakumo to a hospital first . >
’T-that’s right . ’
<Then I’ll call you again later . >
After Gotou said that, he hung up .
'They found him?’ said Miyagawa after Ishii was done .
'Yes, it appears that way . ’
'That’s a relief . ’
'Well, that’s true, but…’
Ishii just couldn’t be completely happy .
He didn’t understand the perpetrator’s intentions at all . What on earth had they wanted to do –
'What’s with that displeased face?’
Ishii told Miyagawa the question he had asked Gotou .
Miyagawa stopped talking halfway and became silent .
He probably couldn’t find an answer either, but if they didn’t solve this question, they wouldn’t solve this case . Ishii felt that way .
'Let’s go then . ’
After Gotou finished his call with Ishii, he carried Yakumo, with Haruka’s help .
He stepped forward with that heavy weight on his back .
It was slippery so he couldn’t move forward as he wanted . It became hard for him to breathe .
'Gotou-san, are you all right?’
Haruka sounded concerned as she lit up the ground with the torch .
It would be pretty tough to walk through the Sea of Trees with Yakumo on his back, but Gotou still didn’t plan on stopping here .
Gotou had decided long ago that he would carry this weight, so –
'This is nothing . He’s light . ’
Gotou showed Haruka a smile .
It wasn’t a lie . If Gotou compared it to the weight Yakumo carried from seeing the spirits of the dead, it was nothing .
Gotou told himself that and went forward .
It took much more time, but he managed to get out of the forest and carry Yakumo to the car .
He was exhausted . He put Yakumo down by the car and stretched .
His back cracked loudly .
He had called the ambulance before calling Ishii . They should be here soon .
'Are you all right?’
'I’m fine . ’
Gotou looked Yakumo .
Though it was faint, Gotou felt like Yakumo’s eyelids had moved .
Haruka seemed to notice that too and she peered at Yakumo’s face .
With a moan, Yakumo slowly lifted his head .
– I’m so glad .
Gotou was relieved, but that was only for a moment .
Yakumo’s eyes slowly opened .
His red left eye looked right at Gotou .
Gotou shuddered subconsciously . That eye was just so cold .
'Yakumo-kun . ’
Haruka tried to approach Yakumo .
Gotou grabbed Haruka’s shoulder to stop her .
'That… isn’t Yakumo…’ Gotou said, looking at Yakumo again .
Yakumo slowly stood up .
Lit up by moonlight, his red left eye was the colour of fresh blood .
There was a faint smile on his lips . It was a terribly cold smile .
Gotou felt like he was shivering from the very core of his body .
Yakumo had had this look when Gotou first met him . Detesting everything in the world, denying his own existence .
'Dark… Complete dark…’
After standing up, Yakumo said that, the faint smile still on his lips .
'Yakumo-kun, what’s wrong?’ said Haruka . However, it didn’t look like her words reached Yakumo’s ears .
Yakumo narrowed his eyes and looked at Gotou and Haruka curiously .
Then – he started laughing loudly, shoulders shaking, as if he had gone insane .
He had completely lost his mind .
– What should I do?
While Gotou was troubled about what to do, Haruka shook off Gotou’s hand .
Haruka stood in front of Yakumo –
The eyes looking right at her were clearly different from Yakumo’s usual ones .
Haruka’s body shook . Her instincts were speaking to her . It’s dangerous . It’s frightening . However, Haruka still stood her ground .
– I won’t run .
Yakumo had braved countless dangers to save Haruka up until now . He had risked his life to save her . That was why –
No . That wasn’t true . She wasn’t saving him because he had saved her .
– I want Yakumo with me .
That pure emotion was what drove Haruka .
'Dark… Complete dark…’
Yakumo said that in a hoarse voice .
Perhaps Yakumo couldn’t see Haruka right now . What was there was darkness –
'Yakumo-kun, it’s fine . It’s fine . It’s not dark . ’
Haruka hugged Yakumo tightly .
'Let me go!’
Yakumo thrashed wildly to fight her off .
However, Haruka just hugged him with more force .
'Haruka-chan, let go!’
She heard Gotou’s voice .
However, Haruka wasn’t going to let go of Yakumo . If Yakumo fell into a deep darkness, she would go with him . That was her resolve .
She didn’t care what was there .
Where Yakumo was, she was . She’d rather –
Yakumo let out a howl just like a beast .
That echoing voice sounded like a cry for help to Haruka .
Haruka shut her eyes and hugged Yakumo’s body even more tightly .
Their bodies, their minds – it was like they were melting together .
Haruka’s eyes could see several spirits of the dead . Every one was filled with despair, grief and suffering .
– They must be the people who committed suicide here .
Haruka understand that not through thought but through feeling .
Why did the culprit bring Yakumo here – Haruka finally understood .
Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees was filled with unfulfilled spirits who had ended their own lives .
For Yakumo, who could see the spirits of the dead, it must have been hell . He had received the full force of the eddying negative motions .
The culprit had destroyed Yakumo this way .
Tears rolled down Haruka’s cheeks –
If only she could understand just a little of the suffering Yakumo underwent .
'Yakumo-kun . ’
Yakumo’s body, which had been violently protesting until now, finally lost its energy . Haruka frantically stopped Yakumo’s leaning body .
However, that weight quickly lightened .
She saw Gotou hugging Yakumo .
'He’s heavy if you’re carrying him yourself, right?’
Gotou smiled, looking embarrassed .
'Gotou-san . ’
'Sorry . I just got the jitters…’
As Gotou said that, his expression looked somewhat cheerful –
Ishii greeted the morning with his face on his desk .
This made the second day in a row . Miyagawa leant back on his seat at the opposite desk, snoring while sleeping .
Ishii’s head felt heavy . He had discussed a number of things with Miyagawa last night, but they hadn’t come up with an explanation in the end .
After sighing, Ishii recalled something important . He hadn’t told Makoto that Yakumo had been found . She must have been worried too .
Ishii hurriedly took out his mobile and called Makoto .
<Hello, Hijikata speaking . >
He heard a hoarse voice from the other end of the phone .
'I apologise for calling so early in the morning . It’s Ishii . ’
<Ah, Ishii-san . >
'I just wanted to tell you that Yakumo was found safely last night…’
Makoto’s voice became suddenly brighter .
When Ishii heard that, for some reason he was the one who was relieved .
'Yes . Detective Gotou contacted me last night . It appears he was taken to Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees . ’
<Is he all right?>
Makoto’s voice grew lower .
<Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees is a famous spot for suicides . If Yakumo-kun, who can see ghosts, went there…>
Ishii understand even without Makoto finishing .
To be honest, Ishii hadn’t thought that far, but now that he did, it was terrible .
For somebody who could see spirits, it was probably like hell, with all the spirits of the dead lamenting their lack of salvation in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees . Ishii felt a chill run down his spine just from imagining it .
'I will confirm with Detective Gotou afterwards . ’
Just as Ishii hung up, the door to the Unsolved Cases Special Investigation Room opened .
Shimamura came into the room .
'Ah, good morning . ’
Ishii hurriedly stood up and greeted her .
Miyagawa woke up in response . 'What, it’s you, Shima?’ he said in a gravelly voice as he stretched .
'Honestly, I’ll get sick of that,’ said Shimamura, leaning against the wall .
'I’m so disgusted I can’t even say . ’
It looked like Shimamura was very angry, but Ishii didn’t understand what was going on at all .
'Miyagawa-san, please do something about it,’ Shimamura begged .
'Tell me what happened,’ urged Miyagawa .
Shimamura took in a breath loudly before beginning her explanation .
'Rich boy Honda’s started saying today that Imoto, the one who died in his flat, committed suicide . ’
'With what proof?’ asked Ishii, which made Shimamura frown .
'I wouldn’t be angry if he had proof . That spoiled idiot was told by higher-ups to solve the case already, so he’s trying to clean it up quickly by calling it suicide . ’
'That’s awful,’ agreed Miyagawa .
Though Ishii didn’t say it aloud, he felt the same way .
Honda had left Ishii and Miyagawa out of the investigation because they thought it wasn’t a suicide, and he’d questioned Aoi Hideaki about the case, but now, just because the higher-ups told him to, he was saying it was a suicide . It was incredibly untrustworthy .
'So what are you going to do?’ Miyagawa asked Shimamura .
'Like I can do anything . The Aokigahara case that we’re working on with the Yamanashi precinct isn’t going well, so it’s being pushed that way . ’
'I see . ’
Miyagawa lit a cigarette with a grim expression .
The higher-ups had probably urged them to solve the apartment case sooner because they were angry that there had been no progress with the Sea of Trees case with Hiyama .
Even though they had both had lives, they were prioritising the more sensational one . It was a sad reality .
'Come to think of it, I heard something interesting about the Aokigahara case . ’
Shimamura clapped her hands together .
'What is it?’
Ishii leant forward in interest .
'Last night, some nearby residents spotted two men climbing the religious group’s building walls and escaping . We don’t know if they were petty thieves or believers, but it might have something to do with the case . ’
– Oh no .
They couldn’t ever say it was them . In contrast to Ishii’s panic, Miyagawa was stifling laughter .
'I think you don’t have to worry about those two,’ Ishii said timidly .
'No, even if you say that…’
Miyagawa couldn’t hold back his laughter when he saw Ishii so flustered .
Shimamura looked confused as to what was happening .
'Those two people were Ishii and me,’ explained Miyagawa .
Shimamura’s eyes went wide in shock .
When Miyagawa saw that response, he started laughing even more loudly .
'Really… I want to join the Unsolved Cases Special Investigation Room too now . ’
Ishii had thought Shimamura would be angry, but unexpectedly, she said that and left .
'So what now?’ Miyagawa asked once he had calmed down .
'Shall we try talking to Aoi Hideaki-shi once more?’ said Ishii, still unsure .
The apartment case had been determined to be a suicide, but it hadn’t been solved at all . There had to be something there, and Aoi Hideaki had the key .
'I’ve come this far . I’ll go with you to the end,’ said Miyagawa as he stood up .
'Thank you . ’
Makoto put her head on her desk at work .
She had been investigating a number of things last night and had barely slept .
The case that she had thought was simple at first had unexpectedly deep roots, making it impossible to see all of it at once .
She had been thinking the whole time when Ishii called her this morning too .
Even though she should have been happy that Yakumo had been saved, she felt anxious .
He had been found in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees .
It was an evil forest where countless spirits who had ended their own lives writhed . Yakumo must have experienced something unimaginable there .
Something so strong it could make his perspective – his character crumble –
Even if his body was fine, it didn’t mean his heart was . It was very possible that he was no longer himself .
A call from Takizawa interrupted Makoto’s thoughts .
'Hello, Hijikata speaking . ’
<Sorry for calling so early . >
Takizawa sounded exhausted . He might not have slept much either .
'No, not at all . ’
<About that thing you asked me to do yesterday… It’s a bit strange . >
'What do you mean?’
<I got information about the time when Jikoukoushinkai was in Yamanashi… People had a pretty good impression of it . >
'Is that true?’
Though Makoto’s voice sounded surprised, that wasn’t how she really felt .
The theory in the back of her mind was becoming more real .
<They didn’t have believers until two years ago . Minegishi Kyouka and Hiyama Kenichirou had just been doing fortune telling and consultations . >
'That couldn’t be called a religious group . ’
<Yeah, they legally registered as a religious group two years ago . >
'Is that so…’
Did something really happen to Jikoukoushinkai two years ago?
That had turned them completely around . It probably had something to do with Minegishi Kyouka and Hiyama Kenichirou’s dispute .
<The local police said they cared for the people who tried to commit suicide in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees and listened to their problems . >
'Cared for people who tried to commit suicide…’
It was clearly different from how Jikoukoushinkai was now .
<It seems like they started researching ghosts afterwards . >
<Yeah . They were trying to explain the existence of ghosts scientifically . >
'Explain it scientifically . ’
Makoto thought it over while taking notes .
The word scientifically just didn’t sit right with her . Right now, Jikoukoushinkai was focussed on worshiping mountains – it was completely a religious group .
There was no science about it .
<And this is what interested me most…>
Takizawa spoke with airs of importance .
'What is it?’
<Minegishi Kyouka says she can see ghosts, right?>
'Yes . ’
<There’s a rumour that Hiyama Kenichirou was the one who could see tem . >
'Eh?’ exclaimed Makoto .
Hiyama, not Minegishi, was the one who could see – if that was true, she would have to think things over completely .
Makoto swallowed her confusion and hung up on Takizawa .
– Thank you .
Haruka heard a voice as she slept .
It was a very kind and pleasant voice .
– Who could it be?
Haruka slowly opened her eyes . She saw white sheets . The sun’s light reflecting off of them made it seem like they were sparkling .
– Where am I?
Haruka quickly recalled what had happened last night .
After Yakumo had fainted, the ambulance arrived . They took him to a nearby general hospital .
According to the doctor, Yakumo’s body temperature was low and he was exhausted, but his life wasn’t in danger .
In her worry, Haruka had watched over Yakumo sleeping in his bed, and it looked like she had fallen asleep herself .
'Yakumo-kun!’ said Haruka, sitting up immediately .
Yakumo was sitting on the bed and looking out the window . In the morning sun, his body seemed to glow .
– Thank goodness .
It looked like his body was fine, but Haruka suddenly remembered something else .
She had another concern . Yakumo had completely lost his mind then . Even if he had looked like Yakumo, it had felt like something completely different was inside .
– How is Yakumo’s mind?
'Yakumo-kun…’ Haruka called out again .
Yakumo slowly turned around .
The light from behind him made it so that Haruka couldn’t see his expression clearly .
– It’s Yakumo-kun, right?
Haruka held her breath and softly touched her necklace with the red stone .
For a while, Yakumo said nothing . He just looked at Haruka . It felt like forever .
Finally, he slowly opened his mouth .
'You called my name, didn’t you?’
'Yeah . When it was completely dark and I couldn’t see the light, I had lost myself… but I heard it . Your voice . Your voice calling my name…’
– You came back .
Haruka felt that . The person in front of her was Yakumo, no doubt about it .
'That voice became a light for me… Thank you for calling me . ’
Yakumo looked embarrassed as he smiled . Then, his hand touched Haruka’s cheek .
Haruka tried to hold it back, but that warmth made her burst into tears .
'I’m so glad… I’m really glad…’
No matter how she tried to keep them in, the tears kept coming out .
Haruka tried to cover her face with her hand so that Yakumo wouldn’t see her face covered in tears, but Yakumo grabbed that hand .
'It’s the second time that you’ve saved me . . ’
'I’ll do it any time…’
Haruka shook her head .
The number didn’t matter . If anything happened to Yakumo, she would go save him without any hesitation . The reason was that for Haruka, Yakumo’s existence itself was her light .
Just as Haruka was about to embrace Yakumo, the hospital room door opened .
'Sorry to bother . ’
It was Gotou .
Haruka hurriedly backed away from Yakumo and wiped her tears .
'Oh, am I really a bother right now?’
After looking at Haruka and Yakumo, Gotou smirked and tried to leave the hospital .
'You aren’t . ’
Yakumo was the one who spoke .
'Don’t worry about me . I’ll let you be alone a bit longer . ’
'Gotou-san!’ said Haruka .
If he left now, she’d be the one who felt awkward .
'What?’ complained Gotou, but he still sat on the chair by the bed .
'I need to thank you as well, Gotou-san,’ Yakumo said formally, looking at Gotou .
However, Gotou just waved his hand .
'Stop that . If you thank me, something unlucky will definitely happen . ’
'That’s an awful way to put it . ’
Yakumo smiled wryly .
'I just followed my own beliefs . ’
After Gotou said that, he scratched his nose, looking like he felt embarrassed .
– That’s just like Gotou-san .
Haruka felt that . Gotou hadn’t saved Yakumo for his thanks . He had just done it because he wanted to .
'So who assaulted you?’ said Gotou after clearing his throat .
'I didn’t see their face . However… I know who it is . ’
Haruka spoke up without thinking .
'What are you saying?’
Gotou leant forward from his seat by the bed to ask Yakumo that .
Yakumo said that he knew who had abducted him . His confident expression made it seem like he understood everything .
'I can’t say right now . ’
Gotou’s brow furrowed .
– It’s started again .
Yakumo hated speaking when he only had speculation . Therefore, even if he understood something in his head, he didn’t say it out loud . As a result, Gotou was pushed around without knowing anything .
'The corpse found at Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees . Aoi Yuuka, who was robbed . The man who committed suicide . These three incidents are connected . ’
Yakumo had said that before too .
Gotou and the others had run forward believing in those words, but Gotou felt like they had just wasted their time since they hadn’t been able to find the connection .
'How are they connected?’ asked Gotou .
Yakumo’s expression suddenly because grimmer .
It was an unusually frightening expression .
'It is because they are connected that the order is important . ’
Haruka cocked her head before Gotou could .
'What are you talking about?’ Gotou pressed, like he was landing the final blow .
'The order that will reveal the truth . If that order is incorrect, there will be victims . ’
After saying that, Yakumo cast down his eyes, just slightly .
Yakumo looked like he was suffering . Even when he had been at the hospital before being abducted, he had been suffering like this .
Gotou had a ton of things he wanted to ask, but after coming this far, he decided to just go with Yakumo until the end without saying anything .
If he did that, Yakumo’s suffering should become lighter, even if just by a little .
'So what should we do?’ asked Gotou with resolve .
Yakumo’s eyes went wide in surprise .
He wasn’t used to other people’s kindness . This was one of Yakumo’s cute points .
'I planned on doing that from the start . ’
'Well, that is natural . It was your possession that made things so troublesome from the start,’ said Yakumo, running hand through his messy hair .
'What kind of tone is that? You should thank me honestly at times like this . ’
'Didn’t you say that something unlucky would happen if I thanked you?’ Yakumo said triumphantly .
– What a hateful brat .
But it felt like Yakumo had finally returned – it made Gotou happy . This was thanks to Haruka, who had faced Yakumo head-on without running away .
When Gotou looked at Haruka, she cocked her head, looking confused .
'Let’s stop the pointless chitchat now . Please contact Makoto-san . ’
Yakumo put his index finger to his brow and started his explanation .
'The newspaper woman? What do you want to ask?’
'Jikoukoushinkai was based in Yamanashi before . Please ask for the location . ’
'Are you planning on going?’
'That is… if it remains . ’
Yakumo smirked, looking amused .
Since Yakumo had said it, there was probably something there .
'Got it . ’
'Also, please contact Ishii-san . ’
'What do you want to ask him?’
'I’m not asking – I have a message . ’
'Yes . A message from me . ’
When Yakumo finished speaking, he slowly stood up . Though his expression was blank, it was frightening enough to give Gotou a chill down his spine .
'Gotou-san, I’m just glad you’re OK,’ Makoto said happily when Gotou called her .
<Yeah, somehow . >
'So, Yakumo-kun…’ asked Makoto, gulping .
That was the biggest reason for her anxiety . He had gone into Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees . It shouldn’t have been an easy trip .
<Fit as a fiddle . >
To be honest, Makoto couldn’t believe it .
<For a while, I was worried, but Haruka-chan called that guy back . >
When Makoto heard that, she relaxed .
Yakumo had Haruka . She would probably save Yakumo no matter what she had to sacrifice .
At first, Makoto had thought that Haruka was just a girl who cried all the time, but that impression had changed .
Haruka had a strong will and lived straightforwardly .
Her feelings for Yakumo had probably made her stronger . Being able to love someone so much was a happy thing .
Makoto hadn’t been planning on saying it, but the words slipped out of her mouth .
Gotou had heard Makoto’s words to herself . It was so embarrassing she felt like her face was on fire .
'N-nothing,’ Makoto said hurriedly .
<Well, that’s fine . I’ve got a request . >
<Yeah . Yakumo asked . Jikoukoushinkai was based in Yamanashi before, right?>
'Yes . ’
<He wants you to tell him the location . >
'Does he plan to go there?’
<Seems like it . >
This timing – Yakumo might have been thinking the same thing as Makoto .
Makoto told Gotou the address she had heard from Takizawa . Takizawa had said there was still an empty building there .
<Got it . >
'Er, I don’t know if this will be helpful or not, but…’
Maokto stopped Gotou, who had been about to hang up, and told him the news she had heard from Takizawa about Jikoukoushinkai earlier .
Perhaps it would be the key to solving the puzzle . That was what Makoto thought .
<Then it wasn’t a religious group there like it is now . >
That was what Gotou said after Makoto finished her explanation .
'Yes, it seems that way . ’
<I’m even more confused . >
'I feel the same way . ’
<Anyway, thanks . >
'No, I didn’t…’
<I’ll call again if there’s anything else . >
'Please wait . ’
Makoto called out to Gotou for the second time .
She had forgotten to say something important .
'Please be careful . ’
'Got it . ’
After saying that, Gotou hung up .
Something terrible will happen – though it was vague, Makoto had that feeling .
Ishii received Gotou’s call when he was about to leave the precinct .
<Don’t speak so loud . >
'I-I apologise… How is Yakumo-shi?’
<He’s probably flirting with Haruka-chan right now . >
Gotou probably said that carelessly, but Ishii had complicated feelings about it .
Ishii had felt painfully during the incident one month ago that Haruka only had Yakumo in her eyes . Even though he should have been unbound now from his unattainable love, his feelings were swayed .
– Love is a strange thing .
<How are things on your end?>
Gotou asked that question .
Come to think of it, their call had ended after Ishii was told that Yakumo was safe .
He hadn’t told Gotou anything about his information .
When Ishii told Gotou that he and Miyagawa had infiltrated Jikoukoushinkai, Gotou burst out laughing .
Ishii glanced at Miyagawa . He was smoking, looking bored as he waited for Ishii to end the call .
He was keeping quiet because he knew Ishii was talking to Gotou .
<So what happened?>
Gotou urged Ishii to continue, still laughing .
Ishii explained what how Minegishi Kyouka had looked when he peered in from the window .
That was what Gotou said first off after Ishii finished his explanation .
'I think she might have been possessed by a ghost…’
<The founder, possessed by a ghost?>
Gotou’s voice screeched in surprise .
'That’s just my theory though . ’
<Your theories can’t be counted on . >
It was true . Since Ishii couldn’t see ghosts like Yakumo, his theories weren’t very trustable . However –
<So what are you going to do next?>
That was Gotou’s next question .
'Actually, I was thinking of going to speak with Aoi Hideaki-shi . ’
<That’s perfect . >
<Actually, I’ve got a message for you to give to Hideaki . >
'You do, Detective Gotou…?’
<No, not me . A message from Yakumo . >
'Ah . ’
Ishii understood now .
He’d heard that Yakumo and Hideaki had been classmates in high school . Perhaps the message was of a personal nature .
However, the message that came from Gotou’s mouth was not what Ishii had imagined .
'Is that definitely it?’
It was so unexpected that Ishii had to confirm it .
<Yeah . >
'What does it mean?’
<Like I know . >
Gotou gave a careless reply .
Since it was Yakumo, he had probably not told Gotou the meaning of or reason for the message . He was always like that . He didn’t reveal the truth until the end .
However, it was a fact that he had always shown them the correct paths .
'I understand . I’ll pass on the message . When will you be back, Detective Gotou?’
<Who knows . Taking a bit of a detour now . >
<Anyway, that’s how it is . >
Gotou hung up .
Ishii was still a bit dumbfounded when Miyagawa spoke .
'Ah, yes . ’
'What’d he say?’
'Er… I don’t really know . ’
'I see . Well, that’s fine, isn’t it?’
Miyagawa’s voice was incredibly bright .
'We’ve come this far . Why not keep going?’
'That’s true,’ agreed Ishii .
There was no point thinking about things now . No matter what conclusion awaited them, after coming this far, all they could do was go with Yakumo’s speculations .
'Are you really all right?’ said Haruka to Yakumo, who had changed quickly and left the hospital .
So much had happened . Haruka thought it would be better for him to take more of a break .
'There isn’t enough time . ’
Yakumo stopped and turned around .
His expression was terribly cold .
'Yeah . If I don’t hurry, I won’t be able to save anyone . ’
After saying that, he looked up at the snow-capped Mt Fuji .
Though it was only three hours by car from Tokyo, when Haruka saw that grand form, it felt like they had gone incredibly far .
'Save is an exaggeration . ’
Yakumo smiled self-derisively .
'Yeah . Salvation might be impossible to find anywhere . What I’m trying to do is probably just self-satisfaction…’
'In that forest… when I was surrounded by spirits who had committed suicide, I realised how powerless I am . No matter high and mighty I might act, there is no way I can save all the people who died there . ’
'Yeah . ’
That was probably true . Not even a god could bring salvation to all the people in the world .
'The people in that forest had no salvation anywhere . That was why they ended their lives . ’
'That’s so… sad . ’
After saying that, Haruka bit her lip .
Haruka couldn’t see the spirits of the dead . It was difficult for her to understand what Yakumo had experienced .
However, she could imagine it . Many people had chosen to end their own lives in that forest .
It was undeniably fact that many people had been forced to take that choice in this world .
'I guess it is sad… But I want to save them, if it’s possible . ’
'Yes . ’
'But for one person to save another – it’s just ego . ’
Haruka felt an impact, like somebody had thrust her back .
– That’s not true .
Haruka tried to say that, but the words didn’t come out of her mouth . It was because she could kind of understand what Yakumo was trying to say .
Is life salvation? For the people who ended their lives in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees, death might have been their only salvation .
'But I still want to save them . Even if it is ego, I don’t want somebody to die in front of my eyes . ’
'Of course . ’
Something warm welled up within Haruka’s chest .
That was why Yakumo was Yakumo . No matter the circumstances, he couldn’t abandon somebody suffering in front of him .
'And if this case continues, I can’t guarantee that her life will be safe . ’
Yakumo narrowed his eyes in the sunlight and ran his hand through his hair .
'By her, do you mean Yuuka-san?’
'I do . ’
'How is this incident related to Yuuka-san’s life?’
'I’ll talk about it afterwards,’ said Yakumo . Then, he started walking toward the parking lot .
Everything was wrapped in smoke again . When Yakumo was like this, no matter how Haruka pressed him, he wouldn’t talk .
Though Haruka felt unsatisfied, she chased after Yakumo .
'Oh, you’re here?’
Gotou waved at them from in front of a red Mini Cooper in the parking lot .
'You’re early . You two could’ve spent some more time alone,’ said Gotou, smirking the moment Haruka and Yakumo arrived .
The incident from earlier in the hospital came back to Haruka and she went red to her ears from embarrassment .
'Please stop that already,’ Haruka said angrily, but Gotou wasn’t listening .
'Why don’t the two of you stay at a hot spring inn overnight?’
– The two of us at a hot spring inn overnight .
Haruka wanted to object, but Yakumo spoke before she could .
'Next time then . ’
Yakumo said that with a blank expression . He was probably just dealing with Gotou, but Haruka felt strangely self-conscious . Next time – would there be one?
'More importantly, let’s go,’ Yakumo said with a stiff expression .
'OK,’ Gotou replied .
Haruka nodded too, after clearing her head of silly thoughts .
Ishii sat opposite Aoi Hideaki .
There was a broken wall clock at a privately-owned little cafe near the station .
Smoking was forbidden . Miyagawa played with the unlit cigarette on the table .
'So what did you need today?’ said Hideaki after the coffee they ordered arrived .
The police had questioned him a number of times . Still, he did not seem resentful or irritated .
Normally, people would have expressed their anger . It wouldn’t have been strange if he had a complaint or two .
– Where does his calm come from?
Ishii had that question as he looked at Hideaki .
'About ghosts . ’
'You can’t believe me… That’s what you want to say, right?’
'No, actually, I’ve met Saitou Yakumo-shi as well… His help has solved a number of cases, so…’
'Is that so?’
Hideaki’s face became instantly brighter .
It was a childish expression, completely different from his calm from before .
'I’m asking this as a personal question, but what is it like to see?’
Miyagawa looked displeased, furrowing his brow beside Ishii .
His response made sense . This had nothing to do with the case . It was just Ishii’s curiosity .
Though he had been with Yakumo for so long, strangely, he had never asked .
'What is it like?’
'In short, how do the ghosts appear…’
When Ishii asked that, Hideaki smiled, seeming amused .
'Detective, you’re an interesting person . ’
'I never thought that a detective would ask me that . ’
'Is that so?’
'Yes . In my case, unlike Saitou, I can’t see them clearly . ’
'Is that so?’
'Yes . It’s like a vague shadow . Well, if the spirit’s emotions are strong, sometimes I can see them clearly . ’
Hideaki seemed very lively as he talked about ghosts .
It was like he was proud of it . It was the opposite reaction to Yakumo, who stubbornly tried to hide it .
'When did you start being able to see?’
'Before I noticed, I could see them . Perhaps it’s just my blood…’
Miyagawa elbowed Ishii’s side .
Get to the point already – was probably what Miyagawa wanted to say . If Ishii talked about anything else unrelated, Miyagawa would really get angry .
Ishii cleared his throat .
'I apologise for getting off track . I have something I’d like to ask about the case…’
'What is it?’
'The ghost of Imoto, who assaulted your sister, went to the hospital . You saw him… correct?’
'Yes . ’
'There’s one thing I don’t understand . ’
'What is it?’
'If Imoto-shi felt guilty, why didn’t he go to the hospital when he was alive?’
The investigation couldn’t find proof for murder – that passive reason was why it was determined that Imoto had committed suicide .
Ishii would have determined it was a suicide from the scene too .
However, the motive just seemed off . If Imoto felt guilty enough to kill himself for a robbery, it would be more of a retribution to confess to the police .
Perhaps people thought differently, but there was also the life insurance .
– Something is definitely off .
Hideaki took a sip of coffee and looked up as he thought . Miyagawa stopped fiddling with the cigarette to watch Hideaki’s odd change in demeanour .
There was a long silence –
'I don’t know . I can only see . ’
For such a long pause, it was a harmless answer .
Ishii had the impression that Hideaki was a cunning person .
'Is that all?’
Hideaki narrowed his eyes as he looked at Ishii .
'Do you have other plans?’
'I want to visit my sister . ’
As Hideaki said that, his eyes were sad .
His sister, Yuuka, was still in a comatose state . She was the only person who knew the truth .
Even though the case would advance so much if they could just talk to her –
'Understood . There’s just one more thing . ’
Ishii took in a deep breath and looked at Hideaki .
Hideaki looked suspicious, like he sensed something from that gaze .
'What is it?’
'Yakumo-shi has a message . ’
Ishii took out his memo and read what was written there .
'I understand what your sister wants to save . She wants to save you . ’
After reading that, Ishii looked at Hideaki .
He was frozen, like time had stopped .
'Detective . Please stop with the lies . ’
After a silence, Hideaki smiled bitterly .
'It isn’t a lie . Yakumo-shi was abducted by someone yesterday, but he was found safely and should be coming here today . ’
'Is that so . I’m glad…’
In contrast to his words, Hideaki didn’t sound happy at all .
The atmosphere became heavy along with Hideaki’s mood, and for a while, nobody said anything .
'Detective . ’
How long was it before he spoke? Hideaki suddenly looked up .
'What is it?’
'I’m the one who killed Hiyama Kenichirou . ’
Ishii was at a loss for words upon hearing Hideaki’s confession .
Gotou looked out the window as he drove the Mini Cooper .
He had reached the Kawaguchi lakeshore . The lake’s surface reflected Mount Fuji with its red leaves – it was quite a sight . If there weren’t a case, Gotou would have liked to stop the car and appreciate its beauty .
He looked at the rear-view mirror to see the backseat, where Yakumo was sleeping, arms crossed .
He’d said a lot, but he had to be exhausted .
'Gotou-san . ’
Haruka spoke from the passenger seat .
'What is it?’
'Gotou-san, you met with Yakumo-kun in high school too, right?’
'Yeah . ’
Gotou had started really interacting with Yakumo because of an incident when he was in the third year of middle school .
'What was Yakumo-kun like then?’
Gotou went back through his memories .
'It felt like he was just running after cases . ’
'So Yakumo-kun was involved with cases then too . ’
Haruka’s eyes went wide in surprise .
At that time, Gotou went to Yakumo whenever anything happened . Though part of it was because he was using that ability of his, Gotou felt like it was just an excuse to interact with Yakumo .
'Yeah . So many things happened that I couldn’t tell you it all . ’
'Yeah . Almost died a few times too . ’
'How was he in school?’ asked Haruka .
Unfortunately, Gotou couldn’t answer .
'Hm… He almost never talked about school . ’
'Is that so?’
Gotou felt a bit of hatred for himself .
He had planned on watching over Yakumo, but in the end, he might have just used him for investigations .
Haruka looked at her lap, seeming a bit let down .
When Gotou saw her profile, he remembered just one thing .
'Come to think of it, I don’t remember exactly when, but Yakumo saved a girl who was in the same high school . ’
Haruka’s eyes flashed open in surprise .
'There was a pair of corpses – wife and husband – that were found in the river . ’
'Yeah . The investigation found out they’d been hit by a car . ’
Haruka pressed a hand against her chest .
Gotou felt the same way . The culprit had thrown the corpses into the river after hitting the husband and wife to erase the evidence .
Come to think of it, something similar had happened to Haruka .
'The police had started their investigation on a bigger scale when a man confessed . ’
'At least there was that . ’
Gotou shook his head .
'Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case . ’
'What do you mean?’
'The true culprit was the son of the man who confessed . ’
'So the father confessed to hide his son’s crimes?’
Haruka’s disgust was obvious .
'That’s how it is . But somebody realised the truth . ’
'Yakumo-kun . ’
'No, before that, the victim’s daughter realised the truth . The real culprit – the brat – thought it’d be bad, so he kidnapped her to try to keep her quiet . ’
'Keep her quiet…’
The anger was apparent on Haruka’s face .
He was a really awful guy . He didn’t care about other people’s lives if it was to save his own skin .
'So Yakumo and me noticed the same thing, so we went to save her and catch the real perp . ’
'So the girl saved then was Aoi Yuuka-san,’ said Haruka .
'I think that was her name… Ah!’
Gotou finally realised .
'I can’t believe you just remembered that . ’
The one who interrupted was Yakumo, who was supposed to be sleeping .
After rubbing his eyes, he let out a large yawn .
'You were awake?’
'Your voice was so loud that I couldn’t sleep properly, Gotou-san . ’
Yakumo was as hateful as always .
Gotou should’ve just left him in the Sea of Trees .
'My bad . ’
'Honestly . There is something wrong with your memory,’ Yakumo said, sounding disappointed .
Though Gotou objected, there was no power in his voice .
He had always had that connection to the case, but he’d just remembered it now .
'I thought that you were talking about it because you knew, Gotou-san . ’
Haruka was looking at Gotou critically too .
'Yeah, yeah, my memory is bad,’ said Gotou with a click of his tongue .
'After that incident, Hideaki quit high school and started working so that his sister could continue to live the way she had,’ Yakumo said in a flat voice .
'It must’ve been tough . ’
Those were Gotou’s true feelings .
Catching the culprit didn’t take back the lives that had been stolen away . Cases warped people’s lives .
'No, he didn’t feel pain from that . Rather, he was happy . I didn’t understand that feeling then . ’
– So you understand it now?
Gotou wanted to ask that, but he stopped, since it felt like Yakumo would make fun of him for it .
'A big brother who cares for his little sister,’ said Haruka .
However, Yakumo shook his head .
'Those two aren’t real siblings . When their parents remarried, they were both kids from previous marriages who became siblings . ’
'They’re not even real siblings, and he’d go so far?’ asked Haruka .
According to Yakumo’s story, even though they were siblings, they weren’t related by blood at all . They could be called complete strangers . But –
'There are bonds even when people aren’t connected by blood . Sometimes, there are bonds even thicker than blood . ’
After saying that, Yakumo looked out the window .
– Bonds even thicker than blood .
Gotou understood now that he’d taken Nao in and was raising her as his child . Even if they were just complete strangers, he would do anything for Nao’s sake .
People’s bonds did not come only from blood .
'What do you mean by that?’ asked Ishii, leaning forward .
–I’m the one who killed Hiyama Kenichirou .
Hideaki had said that . In contrast to the weight of those words, his expression was incredibly calm .
'I mean exactly what I said . I killed Hiyama-san,’ repeated Hideaki calmly .
'W-what are you talking about?’
Ishii cleared his throat, gulped and finally managed to ask that question .
'Hiyama-san tried to use me . ’
'Yes . Hiyama-san’s Jikoukoushinkai claimed to be able to see ghosts . ’
'Yes . ’
Ishii knew about that .
'But they didn’t have that ability . I found out . ’
'Because… you can see ghosts?’ said Ishii .
Hideaki nodded .
'What’s that got to do with killing him?’ interrupted Miyagawa with a suspicious look .
That was the biggest problem . Being able or unable to see ghosts wasn’t a reason to kill someone .
'Hiyama-san tried to get me to join Jikoukoushinkai to expand the group, since I can see ghosts . ’
If Hideaki really could see ghosts, Jikoukoushinkai would be desperate to have him .
'Even though I kept refusing, they kept soliciting me . In the end, they even came to my workplace…’
'And you killed him for that?’
'I didn’t plan on killing him, but when that man realised I wouldn’t respond, he started to threaten my sister . ’
'Could it be…’
Ishii had an idea .
Imoto, who had committed suicide in his apartment, had been in Jikoukoushinkai .
'That man ordered one of the believers to attack my sister . When I returned home, I found my sister collapsed…’
At this stage, Hideaki’s face, which had been like a Noh mask, twisted .
Tears welled up in his eyes, and his voice grew faint . He seemed so weak that he might collapse at any moment .
Perhaps he felt guilty for involving his sister Yuuka .
Ishii didn’t want to press any further, but as a detective, he had to .
'Then what did you do?’
'I figured out that Hiyama-san was related right away . First, I called an ambulance to take my sister to the hospital . Then, I called out Hiyama-san . ’
'I couldn’t forgive him… I couldn’t forgive that man for doing that to my sister…’
Tears rolled down Hideaki’s cheeks .
What a sad case – it was intolerable for Ishii .
Just because Hideaki could see ghosts, a religious group had pursued him this far and hurt his only family, his sister .
Even though it had been for revenge, murder was unforgiveable . Ishii knew that, but he still felt sympathy for Hideaki .
'Why did you take him all the way to Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees?’
Miyagawa spoke up in Ishii’s stead, since Ishii was at a loss for words .
'That was where Jikoukoushinkai’s base had been before . I thought that the police investigation would focus on the religious group if I left him there…’ replied Hideaki with a sniffle . His thoughts weren’t wrong .
The police suspected Jikoukoushinkai’s higher-ups, and had thought it was an internal incident with the believers and founder .
When Hideaki finished talking, a new question came to Ishii .
'Why did you feel like talking?’
Hideaki’s expression was inscrutable .
'Saitou Yakumo . ’
'Was it that message?’
'Yes . I understood after hearing it that he already realised the truth behind the case… so…’
Hideaki shivered .
Ishii realised something when he saw that .
'You were the one who abducted Yakumo-shi,’ said Ishii, carefully but firmly .
'Yes,’ said Hideaki, shoulders slumping .
'Why did you do that?’
'Because it was possible that he would notice . ’
'The truth, you mean?’
'Yes . But I couldn’t kill him . That’s why I thought I’d just leave him aside for a while . ’
'That’s why you told Haruka-chan where he was . ’
Hideaki nodded .
Now Ishii understood the inexplicable call . Hideaki hadn’t want Yakumo involved in the case, but at the same time, he didn’t want his friend to die .
Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees was a nest for spirits that had not found peace . Hideaki had probably thought that leaving Yakumo there would give him psychological damage and make it so that he couldn’t move for a while .
'Saitou can see the spirits of the dead, like me . That’s why I had a bad feeling when Saitou showed up . I thought he’d reveal the truth…’ said Hideaki to himself .
Yakumo’s message had probably conveyed that he knew the truth . Hideaki had sensed that and resolved to confess everything, knowing he wouldn’t be able to run away any longer .
'Thank you for telling me . ’
Ishii bowed his head .
Hideaki’s eyes went wide in surprise .
'I didn’t think I’d be thanked by a detective…’
Though Hideaki showed a smile, his voice sounded full of tears .
They could see Kawaguchi Lake from their height .
It was a tranquil place with a lot of green .
'Let’s go . ’
After Yakumo called out to her, Haruka ran after him .
They reached a lone two-storey home . It looked like nobody lived here now . The garden was filled with dead leaves .
'This should be the address…’
Gotou looked up at the building .
'Let’s confirm that . ’
Yakumo started walking briskly . He tried the doorknob, but the door appeared to be locked and wouldn’t open .
'What will you do?’ asked Haruka .
Yakumo smirked .
In response, Gotou went forward and kicked the door . The door opened with a crack .
'It’s open,’ Gotou said proudly .
What he’d done was a bit much .
'Let’s go . ’
Ignoring Haruka’s doubts, Yakumo and Gotou went inside .
Haruka felt like she’d become a criminal one day when she was with Yakumo and Gotou . Though Haruka was pessimistic, she followed the two in .
When she went inside, she saw bookshelves all along the walls, completely filled with books .
She looked at the spines . Most of them were books related to spiritual phenomena . She could see a number of medical ones too .
'This is an amazing number of books . ’
'According to Makoto-san’s information, Jikoukoushinkai used to seriously study spiritual phenomena,’ said Yakumo, running a finger along a book’s spine .
'So these are the ones that have been left behind?’
Gotou opened a cardboard box in the corner of the room and pulled out files and notebooks .
Just from looking at this room, it felt more like a research facility than a religious group .
'Why do you think they were researching so much?’ Yakumo asked .
Gotou cocked his head .
'Who knows . ’
'Perhaps to make a religious group afterwards…’
When Haruka said the first thing that came to mind, Yakumo looked incredibly displeased .
'If they had been planning to become a religious group from the start, they would keep those books, wouldn’t they?’
Just as Yakumo said, the bookshelves didn’t seem to have any relation to religion . Maybe they weren’t interested .
'Then what are we supposed to search for here?’
'For something . ’
Yakumo replied vaguely to Gotou’s question and went into a room in the back .
Haruka and Gotou looked at each other .
’"Something”, he says . ’
Gotou’s grumbling made sense .
They had no way of helping if they didn’t know what to search for .
'First, let’s check what’s inside that box . ’
Since there was no point grumbling, Haruka crouched in front of the box Gotou had opened and started looking through it .
There were a number of old notebooks .
They were filled with writing . Haruka could see the word 'soul’ a lot . She didn’t really understand the contents .
When she went deeper into the box, she found an old album .
– What’s this?
Just as Haruka was about to check, Gotou’s mobile rang .
Gotou answered the phone .
He seemed to be having a serious conversation, as his voice kept getting lower . What had happened?
Suddenly, Gotou’s loud voice reverberated through the room .
Haruka jolted and looked towards Gotou . Yakumo had come back from the other room to see what had happened too .
'What is it?’ Yakumo asked when Gotou finished his call .
'It was Ishii . He went to question Aoi Hideaki and…’
'He confessed to killing Hiyama Kenichirou-san then . ’
Yakumo spoke before Gotou .
'Why do you know that?’
Gotou pressed Yakumo for an answer .
Gotou had just heard the news from Ishii that Aoi Hideaki had confessed to killing Hiyama Kenichirou .
He would understand if Yakumo had been listening to the phone next to him, but Yakumo had been in another room . There was no way for him to know .
'Please don’t take it so seriously,’ Yakumo said calmly, in contrast to Gotou’s agitation .
That attitude just riled Gotou up more .
'Of course I’m taking it seriously! Explain what you mean!’
'I gave him a message, correct?’
'Yeah . ’
'I was proving whether my theory was correct with that,’ said Yakumo as he crouched in front of the cardboard box, took an old album out and flipped through the pages .
'If my theory was correct, I believed that my message would cause him to confess to the crime . ’
So his theory had been correct .
'Hey, was he the one who abducted you?’ said Haruka, joining the conversation .
Gotou could reply to that too .
'He confessed to that too . ’
After Gotou said that, Haruka turned to Yakumo .
'It is just as he said . Aoi Hideaki was the one who abducted me . ’
'Why would he do that?’ said Haruka, sounding like she might cry at any moment .
Gotou wanted to know too . Ishii hadn’t given the reason .
'It’s simple . I had been close to the truth . ’
Gotou recalled what he had been talking about with Yakumo when Yakumo had been abducted .
Yakumo had been troubled . Not about who the culprit was, but how to save them –
At the time, Yakumo had probably already known that Hideaki was the culprit .
'That’s awful . So he tried to kill you – his classmate – because you got in the way?’ said Gotou .
He hadn’t met Hideaki, but he had thought that he had been a better person . Killing somebody to hide a crime was a terrible thing to do .
'He didn’t try to kill me,’ said Yakumo . Maybe he was trying to cover for him, but…
'If he had planned to kill me, he could have done it at any time . He was just trying to get me to leave the case . ’
'Oh, so that’s why he told me where you were . ’
Haruka was the one who spoke .
Come to think of it, that was right . Gotou had been wondering why the abductor would go out of their way to explain where the abductee was .
Hideaki hadn’t planned to kill Yakumo, but he had wanted him to keep away from the case .
He had probably left him in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees for that purpose . Putting somebody who could see spirits there would cause them a lot of psychological damage .
But Gotou thought that was worse .
'Did Aoi Hideaki know what leaving you in the Sea of Trees would do?’ asked Gotou .
Yakumo smiled bitterly .
'He probably didn’t understand the true meaning of it . ’
To Gotou, that sounded like Yakumo’s wish .
'So what are you going to do?’
In either case, Hideaki’s confession had solved the case .
'Now I will lay the final touches . ’
After saying that, Yakumo shut the album loudly .
'If he’s fine, at least call to say that . Are you an idiot?’ said Eishin after Gotou called . He knew it sounded like a lecture .
He was glad that Yakumo was fine, but Eishin had heard nothing about it until now . It was like Gotou, but for the people worrying about it, it was unbearable .
<I was busy too . >
'You can at least call, right?’
<You’re a noisy old man . >
'Watch your tongue . Atsuko-san stayed awake all night waiting for you to call . ’
<W-wait a second . Why do you know that, old man?>
'Obviously because I stayed at your house . ’
<Don’t just go in without asking!>
Gotou was howling on the other side of the phone .
Eishin ignored that and looked at Atsuko and Nao, who were sitting opposite him at the table .
'Anyway, it seems he’s fine . ’
After Eishin said that, Atsuko’s expression softened .
Though she had been acting calm, she must have been terribly worried . And still she hadn’t said anything – she had silently endured it .
She really was too good for the likes of Gotou .
<Oi! Old man! You listening?>
Eishin could hear Gotou’s yell from the receiver .
'I can hear you even if you don’t speak so loudly . ’
<Liar . Listen up . The next time you just go into somebody’s house without permission, I’ll beat you . >
'I’d like to see you try . I’ll kick you out right away . ’
Though Eishin had meant that as a joke, Atsuko’s eyes went wide . In response, Nao looked anxious too .
It looked like a joke of this level was a bit harsh for these two .
'It’s fine . I won’t do that . ’
Eishin covered the receiver and smiled at Atsuko and Nao .
<Anyway, I’m leaving that to you . >
Gotou said something on the other end of the phone .
'Eh? What are you talking about?’
<You really weren’t listening!>
'Like I said, don’t be so loud,’ rebuked Eishin, annoyed .
After a click of his tongue, Gotou explained again .
<It’s a request from Yakumo . Seems he wants you to look into this person . >
'I’m not a detective . ’
<According to Yakumo, it’d be faster to use the network of families that support the temple for this than for the police to investigate . >
'Hm . ’
That could be true .
It was difficult for the police to gather detailed information, but the families that supported the temple were people who lived in the area, each with their own networks .
<He wants you to look into…>
Eishin took down Gotou’s message on a memo and hung up .
'Noisy as always . ’
After Eishin sighed, Atsuko finally laughed . In response, Nao smiled too .
To be honest, Eishin had been worried about this family at first .
Nao wasn’t their real child . Eishin had worried about whether they could be a family – but that had been needless anxiety .
Even if they weren’t connected by blood, bonds arose between people .
The Gotou family had taught Eishin that .
'Maybe I should go . ’
As Eishin stood up, Atsuko did as well .
'Please stay a bit longer . ’
Eishin appreciated the offer, but he couldn’t just slack off .
'Sorry, maybe next time . I’ve got a role to play too . ’
After saying that, Eishin left the room .
– I’ll investigate it directly .
Makoto decided that while researching Jikoukoushinkai .
Thinking up theories wouldn’t get her anywhere . If she went herself and met the founder, Minegishi Kyouka, she might figure something out .
Makoto grabbed her bag and stood up just as her mobile vibrated .
Unexpectedly, Yakumo’s number was displayed on the screen .
'Hello, Hijikata speaking . ’
<It’s Saitou Yakumo . >
His voice, ever calm came through the phone .
'Are you all right?’
<Yes, somehow . >
'Is that so…’
Makoto was relieved .
She had heard from Gotou that Yakumo was fine, but she hadn’t been able to clear her anxiety until she heard his voice .
<Actually, there is something I would like you to check, Makoto-san . >
'What is it?’
<I heard that you investigated Jikoukoushinkai . Please tell me what you know . Gotou-san’s explanation was insufficient . >
<What do you mean by that!?>
Makoto could hear Gotou’s yell through the phone .
Makoto laughed without thinking, partly in relief .
'What I’ve investigated…’
Makoto sat back down, took her notebook out of her bag and explained in order the information she had gathered .
<As expected, your work is organised . >
'No, not at all . More importantly, could I share my opinion with you?’ asked Makoto .
<Please go ahead . >
Yakumo gave his reply .
'Why did Jikoukoushinkai suddenly change into a religious organisation two years ago… That is the biggest puzzle . ’
<It is . >
'My instincts tell me they’re involved…’
<The man with two red eyes and Nanase Miyuki . >
Yakumo responded in a quiet voice .
As expected, he was quick . Perhaps he had seen the same possibility from the very start too .
'What do you think?’ asked Makoto .
There was a pause .
<Makoto-san, could you perhaps be thinking of going to Jikoukoushinkai now?>
That was exactly it . Makoto had a jolt . It felt like Yakumo had seen right through her .
<Please wait a bit before going . >
<I am heading there too . >
'Is that so?’
<Furthermore, your theory is likely correct . It would be dangerous to go alone . >
– The theory’s correct .
That meant that Nanase Miyuki was there .
Makoto wanted to confirm that, but before she could, the call ended .
Ishii looked at the rear-view mirror while driving .
He saw Hideaki in the backseat . He was looking down and seemed to be enduring something . Next to him, Miyagawa had his arms crossed unhappily .
– Don’t arrest him .
Yakumo had given those instructions through Gotou .
Hideaki had confessed . But Yakumo had said not to arrest him . Did that mean he wasn’t the perpetrator?
Ishii stopped his car in front of Jikoukoushinkai’s base . Yakumo had also been the one who directed him here .
What on earth is going to start – Ishii had that question as he got off the car .
'Ishii-san . ’
Ishii looked towards the source of the voice and saw Makoto standing by the gate .
'Makoto-san . Did Yakumo-shi…?’
'Yes . ’
Though Makoto replied, her expression showed bemusement .
It seemed like she didn’t know the details either .
'So what are we going to do?’ said Miyagawa, who had got off the car . Hideaki was with him .
Since they hadn’t arrested Hideaki, he wasn’t handcuffed . Miyagawa had grabbed his arm to stop him from escaping, but to be honest, Ishii was uneasy .
'I… Yakumo-shi is coming now, so there’s nothing to do but wait until then . ’
'Honestly . ’
Miyagawa let out an exasperated sigh .
Hideaki used that chance to ram himself into Miyagawa . Miyagawa fell from the surprise attack and let go of Hideaki .
– He’s going to get away .
By the time Ishii thought that, it was too late . Hideaki turned on his heels and dashed off .
'Catch him!’ yelled Miyagawa as he got up .
'Yes sir!’ Ishii responded, but Hideaki had put some distance between them .
I don’t think I’ll be able to catch him – just as Ishii was about to give up, a red Mini Cooper drove up and drifted over to block Hideaki’s path, parking right there .
Hideaki turned around to try to run, but Ishii and Miyagawa were there .
'Let’s put an end to this already . ’
The Mini Cooper’s backdoor opened and Yakumo came out .
Hideaki froze upon seeing him .
'Saitou Yakumo…’ said Hideaki, gasping .
'No matter how you deny it, I will reveal the truth . ’
Yakumo looked at Hideaki .
Upon receiving that gaze, Hideaki ground his teeth together in frustration and looked down . Miyagawa took that chance to grab Hideaki’s arm .
'Like we’d like you get away!’ said Gotou as he got out of the driver’s seat .
Haruka came out the passenger seat .
’D-Detective Gotou . And Haruka-chan . ’
Ishii hurriedly ran over to them only to receive a fist from Gotou on his head .
A hot, prickling pain ran through Ishii, but it made him happy .
'So what are you going to do?’ said Miyagawa, still holding onto Hideaki .
'To clean up . ’
Yakumo, the only one who understood everything, went straight for Jikoukoushinkai’s gates .
'I don’t get it, but looks like all we can do is go,’ complained Gotou, though he followed after Yakumo anyway .
Ishii and Miyagawa exchanged a glance and then walked forward, with Hideaki between them .
Makoto followed as well .
Everyone gathered at the gates . Yakumo confirmed that and then pressed the intercom button .
<Who might you be?>
Perhaps the speaker had seen the commotion outside . The voice was filled with wariness .
'My name is Saitou Yakumo . I’ve come to exorcise the evil that has possessed your founder, Minegishi Kyouka-sama,’ Yakumo declared in a ringing voice .
'Eh? Then she really…’ said Ishii .
Yakumo nodded .
'Just as you theorised, Ishii, Minegishi Kyouka-san is possessed by a ghost . ’
– So that really was it . But then…
'Will they let us in?’
'I’m going even if they refuse . ’
'But the gates…’
'Gotou-san can destroy a gate of this level,’ said Yakumo recklessly, which made Gotou roll up his sleeves eagerly .
Though Ishii wasn’t sure whether the person on the other end could hear this conversation, the gate slowly opened and a woman in white hakama with a sash that had a red Brahma on it came to welcome them .
She was as expressionless as a Noh mask . She had a long fringe and wore glasses . The woman had a very dark look to her .
'Will you really save the founder?’ she asked expressionlessly .
'Everyone’s idea of salvation is different . All I can do is exorcise the spirit . ’
Yakumo smiled daringly .
This was the second time Haruka had come to Jikoukoushinkai’s base .
Just like last time, she didn’t know what was going to happen . All she could do was hold her breath and watch .
Yakumo stood in front of the homa-mandala . Gotou had his arms crossed beside him . Diagonally behind them, Ishii and Miyagawa were standing with Hideaki sandwiched between them .
Haruka stood with Makoto, watching for a bit of a distance .
'What are you going to do?’ asked Gotou, tired of waiting .
'An exorcism . ’
Gotou’s brows knitted together . Haruka understood his feelings .
– I can’t exorcise spirits .
Yakumo himself had said that . And who on earth was he going to exorcise?
As if in response to that, the door opened and the woman who had shown them here came in, pushing a wheelchair .
Haruka was startled .
Minegishi Kyouka sat in the wheelchair . Perhaps she was unconscious, as her neck was limp . She looked just like Gotou had when he had been possessed .
'Please bring her here . ’
The woman nodded in response to Yakumo’s instruction . She pushed the wheelchair up to Yakumo and took a step back .
'Then I will start . ’
Yakumo clapped his hands together .
The sound reverberated, raising the tension a level higher .
'In order to exorcise the spirit from her, there are a number of things that must be made clear,’ said Yakumo . Then, he moved to stand in front of Hideaki .
Hideaki slowly lifted his head . His expression was very different than the one Haruka remembered .
He glared at Yakumo with what seemed like killing intent .
However, Yakumo didn’t budge . He turned his gaze to Ishii .
'Ishii-san . He confessed to killing Hiyama Kenichirou . ’
'Eh, ah, yes,’ replied Ishii, though he sounded confused .
'Unfortunately, he didn’t kill Hiyama Kenichirou,’ declared Yakumo .
'What are you talking about?’ interrupted Gotou, unable to bear it . However, Yakumo just raised a hand to quell Gotou and turned towards Hideaki again .
'He made a terrible mistake . That was the motive for murder that he gave Ishii-san . ’
– Motive for murder?
Haruka hadn’t heard that .
'What motive?’ asked Haruka .
Yakumo looked at Ishii .
'Ishii-san, please explain . ’
'Ah, yes . Hiyama Kenichirou-shi approached Hideaki-shi to try to use his ability to see spirits . Because Hideaki-shi refused, his sister was assaulted… is what he said . ’
'That is a lie,’ Yakumo said the moment Ishii finished his explanation .
'What do you mean, lie?’ interrupted Miyagawa .
'He abducted me . He left me in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees to try to distance me from the case . Do you understand what that means?’
Makoto was the one who spoke up first .
Everyone’s gazes focussed on her . At Yakumo’s nod, Makoto began her explanation .
'If he could see spirits, he couldn’t have gone to Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees and been fine . ’
Haruka understood from that explanation .
If Hideaki could see the spirits of the dead, the moment he entered that forest, he would have been surrounded by countless spirits who had committed suicide, just as Yakumo had .
However, that didn’t happen . Which meant that he couldn’t see .
'I see . If he can’t see spirits, there wouldn’t be a motive for murder,’ said Ishii .
Hideaki pushed Ishii with the face of a demon .
'That’s not true! I killed him!’
'Don’t make a fuss . ’
Miyagawa tried to push Hideaki down, but Yakumo stopped him .
Yakumo slowly walked towards Hideaki .
'Listen . You didn’t kill him . You have no reason to . ’
'The reason doesn’t matter! I killed him 'cause I didn’t like him!’
Hideaki grabbed Yakumo by the collar .
However, Yakumo accepted that expressionlessly .
'You aren’t so foolish that you would kill someone for a reason like that . ’
'Don’t decide that for me! What do you know? You just hid by yourself in your shell – what do you know?’
Haruka felt sad for some reason as she looked at Hideaki screaming .
Why was he going so far to claim he killed someone? What would that do for him?
The response to those questions came to Haruka surprisingly easily .
– He’s trying to protect .
'It’s true that I did not have any companions in high school, but still – no, because of that, I understand something .
'I always thought it strange . Why did you lie about being able to see?’
'Stop! Stop it! Please! Just say I killed him! Please! That’s what happened! I’m begging you!’
Hideaki knelt, putting his forehead to the ground .
Yakumo’s eyes seemed terribly sad as he looked down at him, but they were also kind .
'I can’t do that,’ Yakumo said quietly . Though the words seemed cold, Haruka didn’t feel like they were . Yakumo’s human warmth was there .
Hideaki looked up .
'If it’s not him, who the hell killed Hiyama?’ asked Gotou .
Yakumo slowly turned his gaze towards Gotou .
'Aoi Yuuka . ’
The impact of those words made Haruka’s head go blank .
– Why her?
'Oi, Yakumo . What are you talking about?’ said Gotou, raising his voice when he heard Yakumo speak the shocking name of the culprit .
It wasn’t only Gotou who was surprised . Ishii had leapt back with an 'Ehh!?’ Miyagawa’s eyes were wide and he looked like he couldn’t even speak .
Meanwhile, Hideaki’s face was white as he looked at the floor .
'Though part of this is my theory, this is the truth . ’
Yakumo paused and crouched in front of Hideaki, who had collapsed .
'When he returned home, the door was unlocked . Though he was suspicious, he entered the room and saw something unexpected . That was…’
Hideaki grabbed Yakumo’s arm .
Gotou could tell even from a distance that there was some force behind it, but Yakumo still continued .
'Hiyama Kenichirou-san, collapsed on the ground with a knife in his chest . And then his sister, Yuuka, collapsed, blood all over her head . ’
'I said to stop!’
Hideaki thrust Yakumo away .
Yakumo fell on his behind, but he got up immediately and looked straight at Hideaki .
'I won’t stop . This is what your sister wanted . ’
'Stop joking away! Nobody would want this! That’s just your ego speaking!’
'Then why do you keep talking!?’
'Do you still not understand!?’ yelled Yakumo at the top of his lungs .
It was the first time Gotou had seen Yakumo raise his voice like this .
Forced down by that explosion of emotions, Hideaki faltered for a moment, but he immediately gained a hold of himself and continued to bite at Yakumo .
'You’re the one who doesn’t understand, Saitou . ’
'Listen . At this rate, your sister will die . ’
Hideaki stopped at Yakumo’s words .
– Die .
'What are you talking about?’ interrupted Gotou, unable to bare it .
'She won’t open her eyes in hospital . The doctors say she has recovered . Then why won’t she wake up?’
– Why not?
'Could her spirit have left her body…’
Haruka was the one who responded to Yakumo’s question . Her hands were clasped in front of her chest . She appeared to be shaking .
Yakumo nodded .
'She is trying to stop her brother – you . Those emotions have taken her soul out of her body . As a result, she cannot wake up . ’
’T-that’s a lie…’ said Hideaki with a gasp .
'It isn’t a lie . It’s your fault that she won’t wake up . ’
Hideaki looked at his own hands as he trembled .
Nobody could say anything to the chain of unexpected facts . There was a long silence until Yakumo spoke again .
'Let us get back on topic . When he saw this situation, he determined that his sister, Yuuka, had killed the man . Then, he tried to take the blame for the crime . ’
'B-but… rescue workers went to the scene,’ said Ishii, touching his silver-framed glasses with his finger .
'Ishii-san, please recall what happened . The rescue workers didn’t go to their home . ’
'Ah, that’s right . He drove his sister there in his car…’
Ishii clapped his hands together .
'Exactly . The corpse was left there . He returned to his flat and then wiped it down for fingerprints . After that, he deleted the data from the security cameras using the internet . ’
'Wait a second . There was an investigation for robbery assault after, right? Wouldn’t there be results from the blood?’ asked Gotou .
Even if fingerprints had been wiped away, blood wouldn’t go that easily . It should have been found .
'Hiyama-san’s injury was only a stab to the heart . There wouldn’t be much blood if the knife were left in . ’
It was just as Yakumo said .
If you didn’t take out the knife, blood didn’t splatter . That was why there was no blood left behind .
'He took Hiyama Kenichirou-san’s corpse out of the flat, put it in his car and drove it to Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees . Then, he lit it to make it harder to determine the time of death . ’
After hearing Yakumo’s explanation, Gotou could see an image in his mind .
An image he had seen when Hiyama’s spirit had possessed him . Somebody walking through the forest with heavy baggage . So that had been Hideaki .
The truth Yakumo revealed was forceful .
All Ishii could do was listen in silence .
'Though the corpse had been taken care of, his sister was in hospital, injured . He had to think of a reason for that . Then…’
'He faked the robbery assault,’ said Ishii in a hoarse voice .
That was probably why the victim report had come in the day after the incident . However, there was something Ishii didn’t understand .
'Excuse me… How about Imoto-shi, who committed suicide?’ asked Ishii, raising his hand .
'If the corpse hadn’t been found, he would have left things as is . However, the young man and woman who went exploring in Aokigahara’s Sea of Trees found the corpse . That meant there was a possibility it would trace back to him . There, he tried to make it into two separate cases . ’
Ishii cocked his head .
'To put it simply, it made it necessary to solve his sister’s case . ’
'I see . ’
If the corpse was found and the investigation continued, Yuuka could be suspected . That meant that her case had to be solved .
'There he advanced the plan that he had prepared ahead of time . ’
'The murder of Imoto-shi, whom he made to look like the perpetrator . ’
'No, that isn’t correct . ’
Yakumo immediately rejected Ishii’s opinion .
'Imoto-san had planned on committing suicide from the start . He had accessed a site frequented by people with suicidal tendencies . ’
'Yes . ’
After responding, Ishii realised what Yakumo was trying to say .
'He accessed the site as well, chose an appropriate target and contacted him . ’
'And that target was Imoto-shi…’
'Correct . He had been a believer of Jikoukoushinkai in the past and had a loan . Nobody would be a better candidate to blame for a robbery assault . ’
'B-but he had life insurance…’
That was what Ishii had been troubled by .
– Why did somebody planning on committing suicide get life insurance?
'In order to make it seem like a robbery assault, there had to be evidence of it . In order for that, he needed Imoto-san’s cooperation . ’
'The wallet left in the room . ’
'Correct . He had one requirement . He wanted him to keep proof that it was a robbery assault . In exchange, he said he would make it seem like a murder…’
'Imoto-shi believed that and committed suicide…’
After Ishii said that, Yakumo looked solemn .
Ishii understood why . Imoto had had a heavy loan and separated from his wife and child – he had been in despair .
At the end, Imoto had tried to leave behind insurance money as atonement for everything up until now .
However, that promise had not been fulfilled . How did he feel right now? And Hideaki –
Ishii looked towards Hideaki .
He seemed to have lost the will to stand . He just lay on the floor with his head hung .
'Afterwards, he made up the story about being able to see ghosts and led Ishii-san to where Imoto-san had committed suicide . ’
'So we were completely used…’ said Miyagawa with a pained expression .
Ishii felt the same way . To be honest, he had completely believed that Hideaki could see ghosts .
If he had been more suspicious, he might have noticed at an earlier stage, but –
Hideaki’s shoulders slumped . He felt powerless .
He had had a bad feeling the moment he met Yakumo again . The feeling that he would reveal everything soon .
And that feeling had been correct –
'Why did he lie about being able to see ghosts?’ asked Gotou from beside Yakumo .
'I had wondered the same thing in high school . ’
Yakumo’s response surprised Hideaki .
'You knew I couldn’t see…?’
'I did,’ responded Yakumo expressionlessly .
Yakumo’s words had a strong impact on Hideaki .
'To be honest, I hated you . I wondered how you could lie so calmly even though you couldn’t see…’
Hideaki gripped his fists tightly .
It wasn’t like he had lied because he wanted to . He had had a reason .
'But I realised during this case . The real reason that you claimed to be able to see ghosts…’
Hideaki saw Yakumo’s red left eye .
When he looked at that vivid colour, he felt like it saw right through to the bottom of his heart .
'I realized the reason you were lying after this incident occurred . ’
'Your sister came to me for help . Why was that?’
'She knew I could see . How did she know… It was because she herself had the ability to see,’ Yakumo said calmly .
Hideaki thought about objecting, but the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth .
Just as he said, the one who could see ghosts was not Hideaki, but his younger sister, Yuuka . During high school, when Hideaki asked Yakumo, 'You can see them too, right?’, that had been a request from Yuuka, who had wanted to confirm it .
'You wanted to protect your sister . That was why you said that you could see spirits . ’
Yakumo’s words were like an attack .
Tears spilled out of Hideaki’s eyes . They wouldn’t stop . Before he’d noticed, he was on the ground, sobbing .
He had first met Yuuka when he was in the first year of junior high . His father had remarried and Yuuka had been introduced to him as his father’s wife’s child .
Until then, Hideaki had not known a mother’s love .
He had often doubted his reason for existing, thinking that he wasn’t necessary to anyone .
However, after meeting Yuuka, he had been needed by somebody for the first time in his life . She had grown close to Hideaki immediately .
His life, which had been solitary up until then, quickly became full of energy .
For Hideaki, it had been a happiness he had never experienced .
He never wanted to lose the comfortable place he had found .
– I can see ghosts .
One day, Yuuka confessed to Hideaki .
She said that her friends had practically all left her because they thought it creepy . Hideaki vowed to protect Yuuka no matter what .
From the next day onwards, Hideaki began to declare in front of his friends that he could see ghosts .
He took the brunt of it himself so that others wouldn’t find out about Yuuka’s unique ability .
That was also why he said that being able to see was in his blood .
People knew that Hideaki and Yuuka were stepsiblings . By saying that, he was indirectly claiming that Yuuka did not have that ability .
Perhaps he had been trying to understand Yuuka’s suffering by undergoing the discrimination she had .
And then, four years ago, after their parents died, Hideaki reached a decision .
– I’ll at least protect Yuuka .
He didn’t want to lose anything else . That was why –
'Stand . ’
Yakumo held a hand out towards Hideaki .
His face still covered in tears, Hideaki looked at Yakumo .
'Your mistake was your inability to believe in your sister . ’
'In my sister?’
Hideaki’s eyes went wide .
He didn’t understand what Yakumo was trying to say .
'What you did threw the case off track . ’
'W-what are you talking about?’
'Don’t get it wrong . I didn’t come here to trap you . I came here to save you . So believe in me . There is still something you should say . ’
Hideaki didn’t know that Yakumo was the sort of person who could speak with such fervour .
Though Hideaki was hesitant, he took Yakumo’s hand .
It felt like Yakumo’s warmth was coming through to him via his palm, which gripped his so tightly .
'Now, the real performance begins . ’
Yakumo smirked as Hideaki stood up .
– Now, the real performance begins?
'What do you mean?’ pressed Gotou, unable to stop himself . It made it sound like everything until now had been a side show .
Yakumo ran a hand through his hair, seeming annoyed .
'Exactly what I said . ’
'I’ll explain now, so please stop making a fuss . ’
Yakumo stuck his fingers in his ears .
Gotou bit his lower lip . Yakumo annoyed him, but all Gotou could do was deal with it .
'Now, let us begin her exorcism . ’
Yakumo moved to stand in front of Minegishi Kyouka, who sat in a wheelchair .
Kyouka’s body slowly shook, as if in response to Yakumo, and she let out a low moan .
'I will say this first . The spirit possessing her is Hiyama Kenichirou-san . ’
'W-what?’ said Gotou unconsciously .
Hiyama’s ghost had been possession Gotou . Why was he possessing Kyouka now?
'When I brought you here before, Gotou-san, Kyouka-san performed an exorcism,’ explained Yakumo .
Gotou couldn’t remember it, but he’d heard .
'So you’re saying that Minegishi Kyouka screwed up the exorcism and got possessed herself?’
'Not exactly . ’
'Minegishi Kyouka-san cannot perform exorcisms . ’
'But Gotou-san had been…’ said Haruka, leaning forward .
'Unfortunately, that was just your wrong impression . By bringing Gotou-san here when he was possessed by Hiyama-san’s spirit, Hiyama-san met with Kyouka-san again . Hiyama-san’s spirit took that chance to leave Gotou-san’s body . Why?’
There was no response to Yakumo’s question . Everyone kept their mouths shut .
Gotou thought about it, but he came up with nothing .
'Then let me change the question . Gotou-san . ’
'When you were possessed, you felt Hiyama-san’s thoughts, correct?’
Just as Yakumo said, Gotou had sometimes seen a few images vaguely .
'What did he say?’
'Sorry… That’s what he said . ’
'That was meant for the Aoi siblings . ’
'Furthermore, there was more to the words “You did” . ’
'He had been trying to say, “You didn’t kill me . ”’
Now that Yakumo said it, Gotou felt he was right .
He had stopped listening when he realised that the phone call was from a ghost .
'Now it is your turn to talk . ’
Yakumo looked towards Hideaki .
'Yes . You knew Hiyama-san from before, didn’t you?’
Hideaki didn’t reply . However, Yakumo didn’t press him further .
Yakumo probably already knew the answer .
'What are you talking about?’ Gotou asked .
'Hiyama Kenichirou-san was Aoi Yuuka’s real father . ’
'Hideaki and Yuuka aren’t real siblings . Hideaki’s father and Yuuka’s mother both came into the marriage with children from their previous marriages . ’
'B-but Hiyama-shi wasn’t married either, so he couldn’t have had children… . ’ interrupted Ishii .
For some reason, it looked like he wanted to cry .
'Yuuka’s mother gave birth out of wedlock . ’
So her dad had been Hiyama Kenichirou . But –
'Why do you know that?’ asked Gotou .
'There was an album in the old Jikoukoushinkai base . ’
Yakumo had been looking at an album attentively then .
'What was in it?’
'Old photographs . ’
After saying that, Yakumo handed Gotou a photograph .
It was old . It was a photo of Hiyama Kenichirou when he was young with another woman .
'I thought that this was Yuuka’s mother and had Eishin-san gather information for me . ’
– Ah, I see .
Gotou understood then . Actually, he had been the one who told Eishin to do that .
He hadn’t understood just from hearing the name . So that was what it meant .
'Why didn’t Hiyama marry even though they had a kid?’
Gotou didn’t understand .
He wouldn’t have felt any disgust for that in the past, but it was different now that he was a parent . Why had Hiyama abandoned the woman who gave birth to his child –
'He hadn’t known that she had given birth . ’
The person who showed the most surprise at Yakumo’s words was Hideaki .
Hideaki looked pleadingly at Yakumo .
'Hiyama-san had the ability to see the spirits of the dead – that is, ghosts . ’
'So that really was the case,’ said Makoto, in contrast to Gotou’s surprise .
'How do you know that?’ asked Gotou .
Makoto seemed hesitant, but she began her explanation .
'When Jikoukoushinkai was based in Yamanashi, Hiyama-san had been the one working as a spiritual consultant . But when they became a religious group…’
'They switched?’ said Gotou . He understood now .
But he didn’t understand why they’d needed to switch . Yakumo added to the explanation as if he had read Gotou’s mind .
'Hiyama-san didn’t approve of switching Jikoukoushinkai into a religious group . That wasn’t all – he had left…’
'But his name is in the registry…’ interrupted Ishii .
'That was probably because of her lingering affection,’ said Yakumo, gesturing at Minegishi Kyouka .
– Lingering affection .
In short, Hiyama and Kyouka’s relationship had been that of a man and a woman .
'So Hiyama abandoned Yuuka’s mother because he got Kyouka, a new woman?’
'That’s incorrect . ’
Yakumo immediately rejected Gotou’s words .
Gotou didn’t get it any more .
'Though part of this is theory, I think that Hiyama-san loathed his ability . He knew that it was something he had received from his parents . Then, he heard from Yuuka’s mother, his lover at the time, that she was pregnant…’
Yakumo bit his lip .
It probably reminded him of his own situation . Yakumo’s mother must have had the same conflict .
'So he tried to get her to have an abortion . ’
'Yes . However, Yuuka’s mother lied about getting an abortion and gave birth to her child . After that, she left Hiyama-san . ’
– What the hell?
It was too much for Gotou . He understood why Hiyama would hate his own genes . He also understood why Yuuka’s mother would want to give birth to her own child .
They had each had their own conflict and come to their own conclusion .
– So that’s how it was .
Ishii continued to be surprised by the chain of facts .
Yakumo slowly turned his gaze towards Ishii .
'Let us talk about Jikoukoushinkai once more . ’
Here, Yakumo took a deep breath and left a pause before continuing .
'Minegishi Kyouka-san continued to try to convince Hiyama-san to return, but he did not respond . He continued trying to research the existence of souls . He didn’t want the ability that he had suffered for to be used for that purpose . ’
Though Yakumo was speaking disinterestedly, his expression twisted for just a moment .
If Yakumo felt like it, he could probably make a lot of money by starting a religion .
However, he didn’t do that . He probably didn’t want to use his ability for money, just as Hiyama hadn’t .
However, from Kyouka’s perspective, it had been a matter of life or death .
She had started a religious group, but she had no ability . If she didn’t get Hiyama back somehow, the future would be troubling .
'Then, Minegishi Kyouka-san found out about Hiyama-san’s daughter . ’
'Yuuka-san . ’
Yakumo had said that she could see the spirits of the dead – that is, ghosts .
She had inherited her father’s ability .
'Correct . Minegishi Kyouka-san contacted Hiyama-san’s daughter and tried to get her to join the religious group . However, Hiyama-san didn’t forgive that . ’
'Could it be…’
Hideaki lifted his head, like he had sensed something .
'That’s why I said to believe . ’
Yakumo’s eyes narrowed . It seemed like the answer had already revealed itself to the two of them .
However, Ishii didn’t understand .
'One day, Minegishi Kyouka-san visited Yuuka’s house . She was going to get her to join Jikoukoushinkai even if she had to use force . ’
'There’d be no point forcing her to join, right?’ said Gotou . Ishii agreed with that opinion .
Forcing somebody to do something they didn’t want to do would lead to failure .
'Let me put it differently . She used her as a hostage to negotiate with Hiyama-san . ’
'I see . ’
Ishii understood now .
She had tried to use Hiyama’s daughter as a hostage to get Hiyama to join her again .
'However, Hiyama-san could not forgive that . That situation led the three of them to gather in Yuuka’s room…’
’M-Minegishi Kyouka-shi was in that room too?’
In shock, Ishii looked towards Kyouka, who sat in the wheelchair with her head hung .
Perhaps Kyouka was responding to Ishii, as she slowly lifted her head . When Ishii saw that pale face, he wanted to shriek .
Yakumo didn’t hesitate . He crouched in front of Kyouka and met her eyes .
'Kyouka-san and Hiyama-san got into an argument . Yuuka tried to stop them and was thrust away . She hit her head and fainted…’
Hideaki’s body was trembling –
'Then, Hiyama-san was furious . Kyouka-san, in her fear, picked up a knife from the kitchen and thrust the blade into his chest… and then she escaped from the scene . Then, you returned . ’
Yakumo gave Hideaki a sharp look .
What came next was probably as Yakumo had explained earlier .
Hideaki had seen Hiyama dead with the kitchen knife in his chest, and Hideaki had mistakenly thought that his sister had killed him .
Then, he had forged evidence to protect his sister and made the case more complicated .
Hideaki was shaking violently .
Yakumo slowly stood up and faced Hideaki . However, Hideaki didn’t have the means or strength to oppose Yakumo .
'I said it earlier . Your mistake was your inability to believe in your sister . ’
Ishii thought Yakumo was absolutely right .
Hideaki should have believed in Yuuka and just called for an ambulance and the police .
Kyouka’s fingerprints would have been found in the room and on the knife, and the police would probably have been able to make a case against her .
However, Ishii couldn’t blame Hideaki for his actions .
The reason was that his actions had come from love . He hadn’t been trying to hurt anyone .
That wasn’t all . He had sacrificed his own life to try to cover up Yuuka’s crime .
'You’ve never thought of Yuuka as your sister . ’
Yakumo’s words made Hideaki’s breathing ragged .
'Don’t hide it any longer . You love Yuuka . Of course, this is not as a sister, but as a woman . That’s why you’ve done this much . ’
'She’s noticed your feelings as well . That’s why you can stop hiding it already . ’
Yakumo placed a hand on Hideaki’s shoulder .
That moment, Hideaki collapsed, as if all the strength had been stolen from his body, and started sobbing loudly .
His sobs, which sounded like cries, echoed throughout –
– I came to save you .
Now, as Haruka looked at Hideaki, who was crying on the ground, he understood what Yakumo had meant by his words .
Even as Yakumo saw through the case, he had been trying to save Hideaki .
If Hideaki had expressed how he felt, perhaps he would have made a different choice .
Not only had he kept his feelings to himself, he hadn’t been able to believe in Yuuka .
It wasn’t just him . His father Hiyama, Yuuka’s mother and Kyouka had been the same . If they had properly expressed their feelings, this sad incident wouldn’t have occurred .
Haruka looked at Yakumo .
She replaced Hideaki’s feelings with her own . If she didn’t express her feelings, she might lose her ability to believe in Yakumo one day . That was why –
Haruka came to a decision .
'It’s your turn,’ said Yakumo . He looked at Kyouka in her wheelchair . His gaze was kind, as if he was pitying her .
In response, Kyouka let out a low moan .
'It has ended . There is no longer a reason for you to wander,’ Yakumo said, placing a hand on Kyouka’s shoulder . Then, for just a moment, Kyouka smiled . Then, she fainted .
Yakumo’s eyes narrowed as he looked up at the ceiling, as if watching something .
'He left . ’
Quietly, Yakumo declared that the incident was over .
Everyone there was relieved . It had been a painful and depressing case, but now everything was over .
However, for some reason, Yakumo’s expression stiffened again .
'You’re still here though . ’
After saying that, Yakumo looked at the woman in a mountain priest’s outfit, who had shown them in .
The woman smirked for just a moment in response .
'Whatever do you mean?’
The woman cocked her head .
'I mean exactly what I said . Let’s end this lacklustre performance already, Nanase Miyuki-san . ’
The unexpected name that left Yakumo’s lips gave everyone a chill .
They all looked towards the woman, but she didn’t bear the slightest resemblance .
'Oi, Yakumo, what are you talking about?’ yelled Gotou .
'I mean exactly what I said . She is Nanase Miyuki-san . ’
'B-but her face…’
'It’s a silicone mask . Though they are not common in Japan, you can have masks that look exactly like the person you want made to order overseas . ’
Wouldn’t they have noticed if there was a mask?
'There have been cases in America where the police did not realise that the suspect was wearing a mask and arrested the wrong person . However, the mask has a weak point . It is expressionless . ’
'Come to think of it…’
It had been the same when they met her earlier . This woman was shockingly expressionless . So that was the reason?
'Furthermore, she cannot hide that hand . ’
Yakumo gestured at the woman’s left hand . Now that Haruka took a closer look, she noticed that it was artificial . She hadn’t looked that far .
Haruka recalled the last case . Nanase Miyuki had lost her left hand from the wrist up .
'You really are an annoying child . ’
The woman’s tone changed . No, not just her tone . Her voice had changed greatly as well .
Haruka had heard that voice before . It was definitely Nanase Miyuki .
Miyuki tried to escape, but Gotou moved more quickly . He tackled her to the ground .
'You think we’d let you get away!?’
Gotou sat atop her back and pulled her right arm behind her . Then, he ripped the silicone mask off her face .
Underneath it was Nanase Miyuki’s face . The genuine article .
'You have to treat ladies more kindly . ’
Nanase Miyuki had a fearless smile even in this situation .
'You’re not even human!’
Gotou had no mercy .
'W-why is she…’
Ishii spoke up hesitantly .
Makoto was the one who responded .
'Jikoukoushinkai became a religious group two years ago . She was the one who orchestrated that . ’
'Correct,’ responded Yakumo .
So she really was involved – the moment Haruka understood, she felt a sense of terror .
'So the religion was their front,’ Gotou said bitterly .
'Furthermore, Hiyama-san had also been a candidate to be the vessel of the man with two red eyes,’ Yakumo said coolly .
The goal of the man with two red eyes had become apparent during Isshin’s case . He was searching for a new body, now that he was dead .
He had probably focussed on Jikoukoushinkai because Hiyama could see ghosts .
'That man was no good at all,’ Miyuki said calmly, not shaken by the situation at all .
– There’s something she’s not telling us .
Haruka felt that . She could tell from what she’d experienced up until now . Miyuki was the type that flared up when things didn’t go her way .
For her to be acting so calmly, something was definitely strange .
The moment Haruka realized that, the homa-mandala in the middle of the room was lit up with fire . Sparks flew, lighting the shimenawa .
'I fiddled a bit with the homa-mandala . If you don’t leave now, everyone will burn to death . ’
Miyuki giggled shrilly .
Ishii and Miyagawa tried to put out the fire, but it was no use . In no time, the fire crawled across the floor and enveloped the room .
'Everyone, run!’ yelled Gotou . However, that moment, he loosened his hold on Miyuki, just a little .
Miyuki didn’t let the chance escape her .
She slipped out from under Gotou and pulled out a knife swiftly .
She smiled, looking extremely amused .
'You’ll die too . ’
Yakumo glared at Miyuki . However, she continued to smile regardless .
'Don’t think you can get away with all of us here . ’
Gotou got up immediately and went towards Miyuki .
It was true that it would be easy to subdue Miyuki with so many people .
'True . With all of you here, it is pretty tough . Maybe I’ll cut down the number . ’
'W-what?’ said Gotou .
Miyuki slowly looked at all of them and then looked straight at Ishii .
'You first, Ishii-san . ’
'Eh?’ said Ishii in confusion .
'Freeze,’ said Nanase Miyuki . Ishii’s eyes went wide in shock as his body froze .
Haruka couldn’t understand what had happened .
'Ishii-san, did you forget? I hypnotised you . Unfortunately, you won’t be able to move any more . ’
Miyuki smiled .
Those words made Haruka remember . In the past, Yakumo had said it was likely that Ishii was still under hypnotic suggestion from Nanase Miyuki .
Yakumo’s expression twisted .
Miyuki walked towards Ishii with her knife .
Ishii couldn’t move . Fear made his face twitch .
Yakumo and Gotou ran to try to stop Miyuki, but they didn’t make it in time . Haruka shut her eyes unconsciously .
A moment of silence –
When Haruka opened her eyes again, she saw something unbelievable .
Makoto stood in front of Ishii to protect him . Miyuki had stabbed her knife into Makoto’s stomach .
When Haruka yelled, Makoto collapsed to the floor .
Red blood spilled onto the ground .
'I won’t forgive you!’
Yakumo flew at Miyuki . Perhaps he had become emotional – that was far too careless .
'No!’ screamed Haruka, but it was too late .
Miyuki turned the knife towards him .
'Aaagh!’ shouted Yakumo as he fell backwards .
Haruka ran towards Yakumo .
As he lay on the ground, Yakumo had both hands on his left eye . Blood was flowing out between his fingers .
Could his left eye –
'Haruka-chan! Get Yakumo out now! Miyagawa-san, take care of Ishii!’
Gotou gave directions to the rest of them, who were stunned, and picked up Makoto himself .
Smoke filled the room . Haruka could barely see .
She couldn’t see Nanase Miyuki .
In the confusion, Haruka tried to get Yakumo up, but it wasn’t going well . At this rate, everyone was going to die .
Haruka was filled with an emotion close to despair .
'I’ll carry Saitou . You get her . ’
Hideaki looked at Kyouka and then carried Yakumo like he was lending him a shoulder .
'Thank you . ’
Haruka left Yakumo to Hideaki and pushed Kyouka in her wheelchair .
She was frantic .
After rushing out of Jikoukoushinkai, she turned around and found it red with flames .
She looked around and found Yakumo leaning against Hideaki .
His left eye was dyed red with blood .